2022 Montana U.S. House race congress candididates eastern district
Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin / MTFP

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale handily won his party primary Tuesday as he seeks re-election to the U.S. House in the state’s newly drawn eastern congressional district. Democrats, in turn, voted to nominate former Billings City Council member and anti-human trafficking activist Penny Ronning. She will challenge Rosendale alongside independent Gary Buchanan and a Libertarian nominee. As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, that nominee appeared to be Billings realtor and attorney Sam Rankin.

Ballots cast in Tuesday’s primary election, in which polls closed at 8 p.m., weren’t fully counted by late Tuesday night, but both the GOP and Democratic primary races were called by the Associated Press.

With more than 60,000 Republican votes counted as of 11 p.m., Rosendale stood at 74% of the vote, 61 percentage points ahead of second-place candidate Kyle Austin, who had 13% of the counted vote. Also in the race were James Boyette, with 6% of the vote, and Charles Walking Child, also with 6%.

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale receives a call from former President Donald Trump Nov. 15, 2021 notifying him of Trump’s decision to endorse Rosendale’s 2022 re-election bid Credit: Courtesy Matt Rosendale

With just over 24,000 Democratic votes counted, Ronning won 61% of the vote. The second-place finisher was state Sen. Mark Sweeney, who died unexpectedly May 6 after ballots had been printed. Sweeney received 20% of the vote, followed by Billings resident Skylar Williams at 17%.

Rankin, a Billings attorney and real estate broker, was leading the Libertarian field with 43% of the vote, a 212-vote margin over Missoula resident Samuel Thomas, who had 27%. Another candidate, longtime Libertarian activist Roger Roots, was in third place with 23%.

Rosendale, who owns a ranch outside Glendive, is seeking re-election after his first term in Congress, where he represented the existing statewide congressional district. Over the course of his two-year term, Rosendale has positioned himself as a hardline conservative with close ties to former president Donald Trump. His Republican challengers, all political unknowns, positioned themselves as comparative moderates.

Former Billings city councilwoman Penny Ronning is running as a Democrat in the eastern U.S. House district primary. Credit: Courtesy of Penny Ronning campaign

Rosendale said in a brief interview Tuesday evening that it was a “humbling experience” to not only have been elected and served a term in Congress, but to also to see so much support for his re-election bid.

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He’s excited, Rosendale said, to campaign on fighting inflation, energy policy and securing the southern border — all issues where he faults the leadership of President Joe Biden.

“We’ve got a target-rich environment. This administration has caused major problems and we need to put Republicans back into office,” Rosendale said.

Ronning said she’ll work to win the votes of the district’s residents.

“No matter the party, you come around the table to work for solutions. That’s what we need to get back to,” she said.

Billings businessman Gary Buchanan, who is running as an independent, will likely be on November’s ballot. An uncertified tally of signatures gathered by Buchanan’s campaign, provided by the secretary of state’s office on June 1, indicates Buchanan exceeded the 8,722 signatures necessary to qualify for the general election ballot by a 4,500-signature margin, but the secretary of state hasn’t yet officially ruled on his status.

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Eric DietrichDeputy Editor

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.