BILLINGS — U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale came under fire for his opposition to Ukraine aid and voted against federal projects that could benefit Montana, during a live debate on Saturday night in the U.S. home race from eastern Montana that showed deep political divisions between Republican and Democratic challengers Penny Ronning and independent Gary Buchanan.
Rosendale responded to the double barrage by saying he was sent to Washington to represent Montana’s views – “not just to sign a bill so they can get a crumb off the table.”
Both Ronning and Buchanan have called Rosendale undermining Montana’s best interests, including with votes against Ukraine and infrastructure improvements such as Montana’s Milk River Irrigation Project.
“The embarrassment continues – yesterday he voted against providing military assistance, once again, to Ukraine,” Buchanan said. He was referring to a spending bill that advanced on Friday with bipartisan support and included money for the war-torn country.
Ronning, a former Billings City Councilman and longtime advocate for tougher human trafficking laws, accused Rosendale of voting “against almost every law when it comes to helping Montanese.” .
Since his election in 2020, Rosendale has quickly aligned himself with the far right of the GOP. He was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the original House resolution in favor of Ukraine after it was attacked by Russia. And he was among 14 Republicans who voted against the June 19 federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
He entered the race in January considered the frontrunner in a district that leans heavily Republican, and easily fended off three challengers in the June primary.
Ronning won a two-way Democratic primary against Skylar Williams of Billings with 58% of the vote. Democrat Mark Sweeney, a former state senator who died after ballots had already been finalized with his name on them, got 18%.
A week after the primary, Buchanan and his supporters had collected enough petitions to get him to vote. His entry injected unexpected momentum into the race when Buchanan secured support from former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dorothy Bradley. In August, it was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Montana Federation of Public Employees — a surprise move by unions that have often backed Democrats.
Still, with no public poll in the race, it’s unclear how deep his support is, or whether he’s more likely to attract traditionally Republican or Democratic voters and in sufficient numbers to hurt Ronning or even in Rosendale.
During the Great Falls televised debate hosted by MTN News, Buchanan said Democrats and Republicans were spending too much nationally. Ronning has criticized her close ties to the banking industry and she parted ways with Buchanan and Rosendale in her support for the student loan forgiveness program announced in August by the Biden administration.
“Stop electing millionaires,” she said. “They don’t live like all of us.”
Rosendale said his re-election would help protect the nation from more overspending by Democrats.
“We have seen over the past 20 months how the one-party rule of the Democrats has practically ruined our country,” Rosendale said. “We have higher interest rates. We have higher crime rates, we have higher grocery bills. We have higher fuel bills.
Libertarian candidate Sam Rankin is also on the November ballot but was not invited to Saturday’s debate because organizers said he did not meet criteria based on fundraising and other factors.
The November election is the first since Montana won a second congressional seat due to population growth recorded in the 2020 census.
A Democrat has not been elected to represent Montana in the House since 1994. Over the past decade, Republicans have held every elected statewide and federal office in Montana, including except for the US Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester.
In 2018, Rosendale failed to unseat Tester despite spending more than $20 million from outside groups on Rosendale’s behalf and four visits to Montana by former President Donald Trump to oppose the Republican. Trump had a personal grudge against Tester after the Democrat derailed Trump’s veterans nominee by exposing allegations of misconduct.
Going into the general election campaign, Rosendale had a major financial advantage with just over $1 million to Ronning’s $10,100 and Buchanan’s $69,000 as of June 30, according to Federal Election Commission data. Rankin was down to just $100 after investing more than $20,000 of his own money in the race.