Voter Melba Anderson finishes up her ballot for the midterm election in Victor, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: John Stember / MTFP

The ever-growing field of Montana Republicans interested in running to represent the state’s eastern district in the U.S. House of Representatives now includes six potential candidates. 

Last week, two former state lawmakers, Joel Krautter and Ric Holden, announced their intentions to seek the seat in 2024. Like the handful of would-be contestants before them, both men said they would only run if the district’s current representative, Matt Rosendale, leaves his seat to run for the U.S. Senate. 

Rosendale has yet to announce that step, but he’s been telegraphing a bid for the Senate for months, taking public aim at incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Tim Sheehy, an early entrant to the Senate race who has the favor of the national GOP establishment. Politico also reported in June that Rosendale was planning a Senate run, an event that would set up a bruising Republican primary for the opportunity to take on Tester. 

Holden, a farmer from outside Glendive, last served in the state Senate during the 2002 special session. He said he wants to run for Congress to represent Monantana’s agricultural interests in Washington, D.C. 

“Montana is a farm state,” Holden told Montana Free Press. “It’s a natural fit for me. All my adult life, I’ve run a farm and ranching operation. I have no problem understanding what’s affecting the agriculture community here in Montana.”

Communities in the state, especially in eastern Montana, rely on the success of their agricultural production, Holden said. In Washington, he said he’d advocate for fewer regulations on the ag industry — he named lowering emission standards for tractors and combines as an example. 

Holden described himself as a longtime friend of fellow Dawson County resident Rosendale, who moved to Montana from Maryland in the early 2000s and purchased a ranch in the area. 

“If he decides he’s going to stay in the House, I’m going to withdraw,” Holden said. “But he clearly plans on switching (to the Senate).” 

Krautter, an attorney who now lives in Billings, represented Sidney in the state House from 2018 to 2020, when he lost a primary to Rep. Brandon Ler, R-Savage, as part of a wave of defeats for Republicans who established themselves as comparative moderates in the Legislature. Krautter was involved in the 2019 renewal of Montana’s Medicaid program, among other high-profile bipartisan legislation. 

“I believe that we need a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C.,” Krautter said. “I feel I understand the issues facing rural Montana as well as the more urban areas. We need someone back in Washington that’s willing to do the work, and I’m willing to do that, to work hard for the district and get things done.”

Like Holden, Krautter said he would only seek the seat if Rosendale attempts to move to the Senate. 

The duo joins a who’s-who of Montana Republican officials vying for the heavily GOP-leaning seat. So far, only Krautter and outgoing state Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. But the list of people who have publicly declared an interest in the seat also includes Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Troy Downing, Public Service Commission member Randy Pinocci, and State Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City

On the Democratic ticket, Helena’s Kevin Hamm and Billings’ Ming Cabrera have both launched campaigns for the seat. In 2022, Rosendale won the district, which stretches from Helena east to the border with the Dakotas, with more than double the votes of Democrat Penny Ronning and independent candidate Gary Buchanan. 

The primary election is next June. Candidates have until March to file their official intention to run.

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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.