Hard-right Republicans decline to endorse Sheehy for US Senate - TAI News
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In a sharp break with party leadership, a group of hard-right Republicans in Montana has declined to endorse Tim Sheehy, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate hand-picked by Sen. Steve Daines and endorsed by Gov. Greg Gianforte and former President Donald Trump. The decision by the Montana Freedom Caucus and its reasoning —- that Daines and Gianforte used high-handed tactics in forcing U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale off the primary ballot —- bolsters a key campaign talking point of the state’s Democrats.

“I don’t appreciate the way Rosendale was treated at all,” Theresa Manzella, a state senator and head of the Montana Freedom Caucus, said in an interview. “I don’t think that our senators and governors should necessarily be picking our senatorial candidates for the people. I think the people should have a voice and a choice in the matter.”

The caucus’s decision is the latest fallout from a twisted course of Montana’s U.S. Senate race. Rosendale, who now represents the state’s 2nd District in Congress, had announced his candidacy for Senate despite Daines’ opposition and gave a defiant speech at the state’s Republican convention in early February. The following week, he dropped out of the race. He later announced he would run for reelection to his House seat, but only 10 days after that reversed the decision and said he would retire from politics.

At the center of all of this is a rumor widespread in political circles of both parties in the state that Rosendale engaged in an extramarital affair with a staffer. To date, no evidence has surfaced to substantiate that rumor, but it has nonetheless been a factor in Rosendale’s series of decisions, he acknowledges.

“He removed himself,” said Manzella. “He dropped out of the race voluntarily, but it was because of the rumors and the pressure and the PAC money that was being leveled against him.”

The decision to not endorse Sheehy was not Manzella’s alone, she said. It came from a polling of the declared members of the caucus. The national network of Freedom caucuses, an organized extension of the Freedom Caucus of hard-right members of the U.S. House, lists on its site 21 members of Montana’s Legislature as members, although appended to the list is a disclaimer saying the number may be understated because “some members are anonymous.”

The extension of the Freedom Caucus to state chapters is a relatively new development, with consequences for local politics. Politico recently analyzed the issue with a story assessing the “dysfunction” created by the Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House and reporting how the emerging network telescopes those problems to state houses.

Manzella said her group’s rules require the support of 80% of its members to make any endorsement, and a vote failed to reach that threshold to support Sheehy. Neither were there enough votes to endorse Brad Johnson, who remains in the primary. Johnson is a conservative Republican, former secretary of state, former public service commissioner, and a perennial candidate. He has placed the issue prominently in his campaign, especially in a series of op-eds published in various outlets in the state.

“In my hour-long meeting with Daines at the NRSC office in D.C. last December, he made it clear that, in his view, there is no place for another candidate in this race. The senator had no desire to talk about policy, experience, or electability. In fact, money was the only subject he chose to discuss. Therein lies the [Senate Republican Leader Mitch] McConnell-Daines strategy: find a handpicked puppet that they can buy a Senate seat for and then completely control,” Johnson wrote in that op-ed.

Similar sentiments have popped up beyond the Freedom Caucus.

“Overall, across the state, what people are communicating to me is that it’s still a mixed message. [Some people] are saying, look, we need to consolidate behind Mr. Sheehy in order to go into the general election unified,” Flathead County Republican Central Committee Chair Al Olszewski said in an interview with his local newspaper. “There is another group of people, of which I’m one, that says, look, Mr. Sheehy still hasn’t inspired us.”

Quotes such as these from prominent Montana Republicans are being disseminated by the state Democratic Party, largely because the narrative aligns with a key Democratic message in this year’s election. Gianforte, Daines and Sheehy are closely aligned, all based in Bozeman, and all millionaires. Sheehy and Gianforte are transplants to the state. Daines and Gianforte were in business together. The state Democratic Party has seized on these facts as an issue in arguing that Montana has been taken over by out-of-state millionaires and secretive Republican Party bosses. 

If he wins the primary, Sheehy would be the challenger to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a popular incumbent and farmer from Big Sandy.

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The Montana Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.