Republican Matt Rosendale, the current representative of Montana’s at-large U.S. House district, has handily won his race to return to Congress.

With nearly all votes in Montana’s expansive eastern U.S. House district counted, Rosendale beat independent businessman Gary Buchanan and Democratic former Billings City Council member Penny Ronning, receiving 120,899 votes, more than the rest of the field combined. Buchanan received 46,917 votes, two percentage points more than Ronning’s 42,905 votes.

Libertarian Sam Rankin, who was also on the ballot, received 2,975 votes.

Rosendale will be the inaugural representative of the newly created eastern district. 

Montana has had a single at-large congressional seat since the 1990 U.S. census, but gained a second seat following the 2020 count. Rosendale was a heavy favorite to win the district, which stretches from Helena to the state’s eastern border. Former Republican President Donald Trump, who endorsed Rosendale’s re-election bid, would have carried the eastern district by 27 points in 2020. 

In the western district, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a Republican, is leading Democratic attorney Monica Tranel and Libertarian farmer John Lamb, though the race has not yet been called. 

“It is incredibly humbling to once again have the support of the hardworking people of Montana and I am grateful to the citizens of MT-02 for entrusting me with the responsibility of representing them in Congress,” Rosendale said in a statement on Facebook early Wednesday. 

Rosendale, who was first sent to the House in 2020, is one of Congress’ most reliable conservatives, a consistent “no” vote against the Democratic agenda in D.C.

“Our state is facing significant challenges created by the reckless spending of the Biden administration, and Montanans can count on me to focus on getting our economy back on track, working to rein in Washington’s out-of-control spending, and continuing to prioritize serving our veterans, promoting American energy independence, and working to secure our Southern Border,” Rosendale’s statement continued. 

Despite the challenges of running in a deeply conservative district, both Ronning and Buchanan said they could capture voters left behind by Rosendale’s intense partisanship. That vision, however, did not come to fruition. 

In a statement released in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Ronning thanked her supporters, affirmed the security of Montana’s election system and congratulated Rosendale on his victory. 

“You championed hard work, integrity, and the message that all Montanans count and deserve a voice in their government,” Ronning wrote, addressing her supporters. “You dedicated and volunteered countless hours to the Montana you believe in and the well-being of our democracy. Through this, you have strengthened our state, empowered many that had felt abandoned, and gave hope for a better future to the younger generations.”

Ronning, an advocate for victims of sex trafficking outside of her work on the council, ran as a money-in-politics reformist who wasn’t interested in the trappings of a professionalized campaign. She raised only about $134,000 to Buchanan’s $563,000 and Rosendale’s $2 million. 

“A campaign costs money, no two ways around it,” she said at a campaign event. “But I’m a strong believer that in a state with a little over a million people, elections shouldn’t cost $1 million. I firmly believe that you earn votes, you don’t buy votes.”

Buchanan, a Billings financial advisor, ran on the strength of his business experience and a varied career in state government under governors from both parties, including as the first director of the Montana Department of Commerce. He made it onto the ballot after the June primary thanks to a robust signature-gathering effort, and received early endorsements from prominent figures from the state’s political past, including former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot and Racicot’s one-time Democratic opponent, Dorothy Bradley. His is one of the more successful independent runs in the state’s recent history, but did not ultimately come close to Rosendale’s tally. 

“I think we proved that there is an independent voice in Montana,” Buchanan told Montana Free Press. “There’s a solid bunch of independents that really want Montana politics to become more civil. l’m hoping that the votes we have are making a statement that politicians have to start treating each other better, that it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to finally work on something together.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.