Former Montana Secretary of State and Public Service Commission chair Brad Johnson is the second Republican to officially enter the 2024 race to challenge three-term Democrat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Mr. Sheehy has already been endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) led by Montana’s junior senator, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), also a former Navy SEAL.
Waiting in the wings, teasing a run but not formerly jumping into the race as a declared candidate, is Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), a "Make America Great Again" conservative and fiscal hardliner who has played a prominent role in the unfolding congressional budget standoffs and House speaker battles.
Mr. Rosendale has not declared his candidacy for the June 4, 2024, GOP primary but has until March 11, 2024, to do so. He lost to Mr. Tester by nearly 4-percentage points in 2018 when he was the state auditor.
“After having the privilege of serving statewide as Secretary of State and understanding the issues facing Montana families, I am running because this isn’t an election we can relegate to slick DC gimmicks nor second chances with failed candidates,” he said. “We are losing our country and it is time for real leadership that shoots straight with Montanans, understands our values, and gets things done for our future.
“I will be that candidate and look forward to working hard to earn that opportunity over the next few months,” he added.
Mr. Johnson is banking on his name recognition among Montana voters to gain ground on Mr. Sheehy’s six-month head start in fundraising and campaign advertising.
Sheehy Focused on TesterMr. Sheehy’s campaign reported raising $2.87 million with $1.124 million in its coffers in its Sept. 30 Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing. That includes a $500,000 personal loan and $150,000 in other personal contributions.
“Thanks to the outpouring of support from grassroots conservatives, we’re in a strong position to win and finally beat Jon Tester in 2024,” Mr. Sheehy said in a statement on his campaign website.
“Our campaign is growing stronger every day, and it’s clear the people of Montana want a new generation of conservative leadership to represent them in Washington. Together, we’re going to finally retire Jon Tester, take back the Senate, and save our country.”
Mr. Tester’s Sept. 30 FEC filing showed his campaign having raised $19.655 million, with $13 million in the bank as of Oct. 1.
2024 Race For the SenateThere will be 34 seats in the 51-49 Democrat majority Senate on ballots across the nation in November 2024, including 20 held by Democrats, three by independents who caucus with Democrats, and 11 by Republicans.
Of the 20 seats now held by incumbent Democrats, at least eight are in states defined as “competitive” by elections ratings services such as Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections, with Mr. Tester, Mr. Manchin, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) holding seats in states won by former President Donald Trump in 2020.
Mr. Sheehy has not directly commented on Mr. Johnson’s entry in the race, focusing solely on defeating Mr. Tester, taking him to task for supporting Biden administration energy policies that critics argue have led to higher gas costs and inflation.
He does not support continuing to assist Ukraine in resisting Russia’s invasion and frequently refers to Mr. Tester as “Tehran Jon” in frequent X posts over the incumbent’s support for the Biden administration’s deal with Iran that led to the release of five imprisoned Americans in September in exchange for releases of $6 billion in Iranian assets frozen by banks.
Mr. Tester, however, was among Democrats who requested the administration freeze those funds again in an October letter to President Joe Biden.
“These backward, America Last policies show precisely what’s wrong with career politicians in DC,” Mr. Sheehy said. Jon Tester “is way off base here. We need a new generation of conservative leadership who will represent hardworking Montanans, secure the border, and put Montana and America First!”
Rosendale Running, But For What?Mr. Tester told The Epoch Times on Nov. 13 that he’s focused on adopting a budget and not on his 2024 reelection effort as yet.
Asked if Mr. Manchin’s retirement puts more pressure on his campaign, he said, “I’m not even thinking” about that. “We got to get this appropriation supplemental [budget bill] and Farm Bill” adopted, he said.
Despite kicking off his campaign with little name recognition, Mr. Sheehy has steadily gained in polls, coming within 4 percentage points of Mr. Tester in one recent survey.
In an Oct. 1–4 Emerson College poll of 447 likely voters, Mr. Tester edged Mr. Sheehy 39-to-35 percent with 21 percent undecided.
Unlike his criticism of Mr. Sheehy as an “establishment-backed” novice, among other dismissals through the summer, Mr. Rosendale has said little about Mr. Johnson joining the race.
His campaign reported only raising $247,000 in its Sept. 30 FEC filing. But it had $1.7 million in the bank as of Oct. 1—$600,000 more than Mr. Sheehy reported.
His campaign spokesperson told The Epoch Times in October that he may not decide whether he’ll seek reelection to the House or a rematch with Mr. Tester until March’s filing deadline.
Mr. Rosendale is certainly running for something in 2024.