Speaker Johnson reverses on planned Montana Senate endorsement

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is reversing his plans to endorse Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) in the Montana Republican’s widely expected campaign for Senate, according to one GOP lawmaker.

Punchbowl News reported Thursday morning that Johnson was planning to endorse Rosendale in his long-anticipated Senate bid. Rosendale, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has not yet jumped into the race, but several reports have indicated that he is looking to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in the Big Sky Country.

Rosendale, however, would first have to topple Republican Tim Sheehy, who is already in the race and has backing from a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill. Sheehy was a top recruit of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and he won the endorsement of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) and other conservatives.

Johnson’s initial backing of Rosendale would have put him in direct opposition to Daines and other Republicans, who see Sheehy as having a better chance of beating Tester. Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018. The Montana Senate seat is a key priority for Republicans in the 2024 cycle.

But later on Thursday, Zinke said Johnson was reversing course.

“Upon reflection, the Speaker withdrew his endorsement largely based on the reality that Rosendale is the weaker candidate by far against Tester,” Zinke told Politico in a statement, which the congressman’s office confirmed to The Hill.

Greg Steele, communications director for Johnson’s political operation, told The Hill in a statement that the Speaker plans to send a contribution to Rosendale, but has not formally backed anyone in the race.

“The Speaker has committed to sending a contribution to Congressman Rosendale, as he has for other House colleagues and friends, but he has not made any endorsements in Senate races. He is singularly focused on growing the House majority,” Steele said.

The Hill reached out to Rosendale for comment.

Johnson’s backtrack on his endorsement on the Montana Senate race comes as Rosendale is reportedly getting ready to officially launch his campaign. The Washington Examiner reported last month that he is eyeing a launch shortly before the March filing deadline.

Rosendale has drawn several headlines through the 118th Congress. In October, he was one of eight Republicans to vote to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and before that, he withheld his support from the California Republican during all 14 ballots for Speaker.

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