While conventional wisdom has held for the past 3-4 years that Republicans will nominate Tim Fox to be the next governor of Montana, that narrative has become complicated by the emergence of the Gianforte-Daines power center in Bozeman. Two sources have confirmed that Tim Fox went to Senator Steve Daines to ask for his support in a run for governor before being rebuffed by the Senator who plans to remain loyal to his sugar daddy, Gianforte, who plans to mount another campaign for governor in 2020.
While Daines, whose favorability ratings are in the forties and who will be very vulnerable to the right Democratic candidate, may not matter enormously in the Republican primary, a bloody internecine struggle in the Republican Party might be just what Democrats need to improve their odds of holding on to the governor’s chair in 2020. Even better, the players moving for the governor’s office will open up additional pickup opportunities for Democrats.
Fox already had to delay his planned announcement that he’s running for governor when Secretary of State Corey Stapleton jumped the gun to preëmpt the Fox announcement and speed up the process of losing yet another statewide race, so the coronation that some envisioned this race to look like might soon seem quite a bit more complicated to the Attorney General, who has never proven himself to be an especially effective or energetic campaigner.
All of this sets up a potentially fascinating GOP primary for governor, with Gianforte and Dr. Al Olszewski, who has a surprisingly vocal and committed constituency online, battling for the TEA Party evangelical vote, Fox hewing to the increasingly small Republican center, and Corey Stapleton sitting at the little kids’ table wondering why he ever let the ambitious and delusional staffer very close to him convince him he was gubernatorial material.
Congress: Rosendale Versus Rehberg? Rehberg?
The race for governor is not the only race shaping up to be fascinating on the Republican side. With Gianforte abandoning his Congressional seat, Matt Rosendale is already eyeing another bid to return back East and will run for Congress. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense for Rosendale, who has little interest in the position of Auditor other than as a stepping stone to national office and another federal campaign is the only way he can keep his money laundering campaign donation machine in operation. I’d bet Rosendale’s dude ranch that he’ll be running for Congress in 2020.
I’m also hearing rumors that warm this blogger’s heart more than you can imagine. After a six-year hiatus following his loss to Jon Tester, there are rumblings that Chicken King Denny Rehberg is considering another run for elected office and a return to Congress is at the top of his list of options.
Denny Rehberg. While people talk about a small Democratic bench in Montana, it’s certain that Republicans have an embarrassment of candidates available to them.
Troy Downing, who may still be a resident of California, has always been lurking around the Capitol, so it’s almost certain he’ll insert himself inside another race. Russ Fagg, who took a long vacation in Europe this fall after his loss in the Senate primary, certainly still has ambitions for higher office, but it may not yet be clear how damaged he was by his disastrous campaign against Matt Rosendale.
With the session in town, there’s sure to be a lot of stirring in these races, but one thing is certain: the battle for position inside the Republican Party will be fascinating to watch.