Rocky Mountain State Primaries Gearing Up for Republican Brawl

Big name Republicans are poised to enter Senate races in Arizona and Montana while in Utah, a prominent retirement opens the door for a competitive race.
Rocky Mountain State Primaries Gearing Up for Republican Brawl
Arizona Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake speaks with supporters at a rally in Phoenix on Nov. 3, 2022. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
John Haughey

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is out while Kari Lake and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) are almost certainly in, meaning Republican U.S. Senate primaries in three Rocky Mountain states promise to be inter-partisan melees.

Arizona’s and Montana’s U.S. Senate races were already expected to be rollicking campaigns but with Mr. Romney’s retirement, Utah’s GOP U.S. Senate primary could also be a hotly contested affair.

Mr. Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate and a fierce Trump critic, announced on Sept. 13 that he would not run for a second six-year term in the Senate.

Five days later, Utah House Speaker Rep. Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville) announced he was stepping down from his post and dispatched emails heralding a Sept. 27 “special event” in Draper where he is expected to officially launch his bid.

Mr. Wilson joins Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird Jr., political commentator Tyrone Jensen, and Salt Lake City data scientist Gabriel Blanco-Lobo as declared Republican candidates in the GOP Senate primary.

Others who could file before the Jan. 8, 2024, filing deadline include Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Addax CEO Kirk Jowers, and Freedom Front executive director Carolyn Phippen.

The Utah Republican Party nominating convention to select one or two candidates to move onto the June 25, 2024, primary ballot is on April 27.

Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate and Trump booster Lake told The Epoch Times on Sept. 20 that she will decide by October if she’ll enter the Arizona Senate race, which will pit the Republican primary winner against incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), elected in 2018 as a Democrat but an independent since 2020, and well-financed Democrat contender, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

"While I appreciate the media's speculation, I have nothing to announce at the moment," Ms. Lake said. "I made a promise to the people of Arizona to stay in this fight, and I will do just that. I have been giving a run for the Senate serious consideration because Arizonans deserve far better representation than Ruben Gallego or Kyrsten Sinema."

With an April 8 filing deadline for Arizona’s Aug. 6, 2024, primary, thus far the most prominent Republicans vying for the GOP Senate nod are Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and former gubernatorial candidate George Nicholson.

Blake Masters, the conservative venture capitalist who lost 2022’s Arizona Senate election to incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), is also pondering a second run, although speculation that his entry was near-certain has simmered to he “may” run.

 Tim Sheehy former Navy SEAL, and 2024 Republican Senate candidate in the state of Montana. (Courtesy of Tim Sheehy)
Tim Sheehy former Navy SEAL, and 2024 Republican Senate candidate in the state of Montana. (Courtesy of Tim Sheehy)

Newcomer Faces Shadow Campaign

In Montana, retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, the multimillionaire owner of an aerial firefighting company, has been endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee led by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and, among others, Gov. Greg Gianforte and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).

“Tim Sheehy is a decorated veteran, successful businessman, and a great Montanan. I could not be happier that he has decided to enter the Montana Senate race,” Mr. Daines said in an endorsement echoed by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The 37-year-old first-time candidate is currently running unopposed in seeking the Republican nod to take on three-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in the Nov. 5, 2024, general election.

That is, “officially” unopposed. Mr. Rosendale has been shadow-campaigning for Mr. Tester’s seat—and taking jabs at Mr. Sheehy—for months.

As a then-state auditor, he was defeated in 2018 by Mr. Tester by nearly 4 percentage points.

Elected to Congress in 2020 and reelected in 2022, Mr. Rosendale is a House Freedom Caucus member who opposed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) ascent to House Speaker and is an outspoken MAGA conservative who has played a prominent role in the current budget standoff in Congress.

Mr. Rosendale’s spokesperson Aashka Varma told The Epoch Times on Sept. 21 that she would repeat “what he has been telling every single reporter” that he is focused on cutting federal spending and “still might be running” for the Senate.

There is no deadline for making a decision, she said, other than the one “that happens to coincide with the filing deadline” for Montana’s June 4, 2024, primary, which is March 11.

Mr. Rosendale’s national profile has been raised because of his role in budget deliberations but none of that will factor in his decision, or the timing of his decision, to run for Senate, Ms. Varma said.

“I wouldn’t say anything that we’re doing is about raising his profile,” she said. “Montanans didn’t send him to Washington to do business as usual.”

Mr. Sheehy’s spokesperson Katie Martin told The Epoch Times that the campaign had no comment on Mr. Rosendale’s potential entry into the race and was keeping its focus on defeating Mr. Tester.

Asked about Mr. Rosendale’s criticisms of his candidacy in a Sept. 12 "Fox and Friends" appearance, Mr. Sheehy said negativity “has been Matt’s narrative” and that’s unlikely to change.

“There’s a difference between an outsider and an insider that nobody likes,” Mr. Sheehy said. “And he’s an insider that nobody likes, who’s running for his third term in Congress, and has been a career politician—eight offices in 13 years.”

Few Montanans had heard of Mr. Sheehy before he announced his campaign while Mr., Rosendale has broad statewide name recognition following his years in state government and Congress.

A Public Policy Polling July 19-20 survey showed Mr. Rosendale romping in a prospective head-to-head race with Mr. Sheehy, 64 percent to just 10 percent.
In an Aug. 12-17 survey conducted by J.L. Partners, Mr. Sheehy had gained some ground, but still trailed Mr. Rosendale 55–19 percent in a prospective primary face-off.

Mr. Sheehy’s campaign formed just before the June 30 FEC deadline, so it is uncertain how much money he has raised until the third quarter ends Sept. 30 and finance campaign reports are posted in mid-October. He has the capacity to self-fund.

Mr. Rosendale has been touring the state since spring and has an active campaign committee registered with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) that began July 1 with $1.5 million in the bank.

 Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) speaks during a House Freedom Caucus press conference on appropriations at House Triangle on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) speaks during a House Freedom Caucus press conference on appropriations at House Triangle on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Name Recognition Versus Fundraising

While Mr. Sheehy’s campaign has a name-recognition challenge, Mr. Rosendale’s biggest issue could be fundraising, especially for a race he has not declared himself a candidate in.

In his campaign fundraising emails to supporters, Mr. Rosendale regularly attacks the “McConnell-Biden establishment” that “is lining up to install another member of the Washington uni-party” in Mr. Sheehy.

“Mitch McConnell and the D.C. party bosses have hand-picked their candidate to represent Montanans,” an Aug. 30 Matt Rosendale For Montana email said.

“Friend, this hand-picked McConnell candidate plus the lobbyist-funded Democrat Jon Tester means that Montanans are facing two candidates who will only protect the interests of the D.C. cartel.”

On Sept. 6, the Rosendale campaign referred to the Senate race in a fundraising pitch. “We can’t let the D.C. cartel bring back their anti-freedom, anti-science lockdowns. And we certainly can’t afford to have someone hand-picked by this D.C. cartel representing Montana in the Senate!”

In a Sept. 12 fundraising email, Mr. Rosendale claimed he is “one of the last Republicans left in Congress willing to stop our slide toward financial ruin and the weaponization of our government!”

The next day, in an email with the subject line “Election Rigging Plot Exposed,” Mr. Rosendale said that the “swamp” was forcing its candidate onto the voters.

“Mitch McConnell and the D.C. cartel are plotting to force their pick on our state anyways–even if they have to spend a fortune to do it!

"They would rather break the bank to defeat a true conservative than focus on beating Democrats in 2024,” the letter said while linking to an article about 39 state legislators endorsing his non-Senate campaign in August.

John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at [email protected]