When the state redistricting commission carved Montana into two congressional districts last year, most attention focused on how the new boundaries would affect the western district, where Democrats hoped to have a chance of winning. The eastern district, most assumed, would be an easy win for Republicans. Of the 41 counties in that district, half lack a Democratic central committee. The seat belongs to current at-large Representative Matt Rosendale for as long as he wants it, most observers believed. Things changed in April, when Gary Buchanan entered the race as an Independent. Buchanan, 73, brings more than four decades of
Montana leadership experience to the race. He ran the state’s commerce department for former Democratic Governor Ted Schwinden, and former Republican Governor Marc Racicot hired him to help reinvent how
state government works. The successful investment manager has run statewide boards ranging from the Montana Nature Conservancy to the Montana Banking Board. He’s campaigning on his long experience with
common sense solutions and nonpartisan approaches. Some big endorsements came quickly, most notably from Racicot, along with Racicot’s opponent in the 1992 gubernatorial race, former Democratic lawmaker
Dorothy Bradley. His entry poses some very interesting arithmetic. Boil it down, and it means the winner could take this race with somewhere around 35 percent of the vote, maybe a little less. There are now four people in this race: Rosendale, whose approval ratings hover in the mid-30s, the lowest of any statewide official; Democrat Penny Ronning, a hardworking progressive and former Billings City Council member; and Libertarian Sam Rankin. Ronning is getting no financial support from the state and national Democratic parties and she lags far behind Buchanan in fundraising. While he lacks party machinery, Buchanan has a team of more than 400
volunteers around the district as well as deep personal connections in every corner of it. He admits this will be an uphill race, as Rosendale’s war chest contains more than $1 million and he has former President
Trump’s endorsement. But Rosendale also aligns himself with his party’s most extreme factions and has taken very controversial positions: He opposed honoring the Capitol police after the January 6 uprising; he opposed any support for Ukraine against Russia; he co-sponsored a bill to cut funding for local wildlife management and shooting ranges; he opposes allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO. The Libertarian candidate in that district typically takes about 4 percent of the vote and might draw more disaffected Republicans this year, leaving three people to scramble for the remainder. Nobody needs a majority to win. A plurality is enough. A few months ago, this race looked pretty boring. With Buchanan’s entry, it got exciting.
Full disclosure: Quarterly editor Scott McMillion gathered signatures, hosted fundraisers, and donated energy and money to Gary Buchanan’s U.S. House run. He’s never in his life been that involved in a political campaign.