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Montana Rep. Rosendale drops US House reelection bid, citing rumors and death threat

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana abruptly dropped his reelection bid on Friday — the second time in the past month that the hardline conservative lawmaker has entered and then quickly dropped out of a congressional race.

Rosendale cited defamatory rumors and a death threat against him that prompted the lawmaker to call law enforcement to check on his children as reasons for retiring at the end of his term in January 2025.

“This has taken a serious toll on me and my family,” Rosendale said in a social media post, adding that “the current attacks have made it impossible for me to focus on my work to serve you.”

Rosendale is serving his second term in the House. On Feb. 9 he filed for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Jon Tester — even though Republican leaders had endorsed former Navy SEAL and businessman Tim Sheehy.

Dozens of conservative state lawmakers had encouraged Rosendale to run and his entry into the Senate race threatened to splinter the party in the leadup to the June 4 primary.

But under pressure from GOP leaders Rosendale dropped out of the Senate race just six days later, citing former President Donald Trump's endorsement of Sheehy and the inability to raise enough money for a Senate campaign. He filed for reelection to his House seat on Feb. 28, he said, “at the urging of many, including several of the current candidates.”

In Washington, Rosendale has been among the House’s most hard-right conservatives and a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He banded with seven other members of his party in October to oust Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

He also supports Trump, voted against certifying the 2020 election, and cosponsored legislation with Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to defund Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s alleged storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

Montana voters elected Rosendale, a native of Maryland, to the House in 2020 and again two years ago by wide margins. His decision to bow out comes after numerous Republicans jumped into the contest when it was presumed Rosendale wouldn’t seek a third term.

Among them are former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana state Auditor Troy Downing and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, who had said she would run only if Rosendale did not.

Democrats have struggled to gain a foothold in the district since it was redrawn for the 2022 election when Montana gained a second congressional seat due to its growing population. The party’s nominee that year, former state lawmaker Penny Ronning, finished third in the general election with just 20% of the vote, behind Rosendale and Independent Gary Buchanan.

Rosendale's exit gives Democrats a potential opening in November since their nominee won't be up against an incumbent. Yet they still face long odds given the district's conservative leanings.

“This is our moment, Montana,” Democratic House candidate Ming Cabrera said in an email to supporters just over an hour after Rosendale's announcement. “The odds of flipping this seat and handing it back to a real Montanan have never been better.”

GOP leaders in Washington favored Sheehy over Rosendale in the Senate race because they viewed the political newcomer as having a better chance to unseat Tester as they try to wrest control of the Senate. Democrats hold a slim majority in the chamber and will have several vulnerable incumbents on the November ballot, including Tester.

Rosendale, a former state lawmaker and state auditor, ran against Tester and lost in 2018 despite multiple visits to the state on his behalf by then-President Trump.

Montana Republican Party Chairman Don “K” Kaltschmidt said Friday that the party was grateful for Rosendale's years of service.

“We wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Kaltschmidt said in a statement.

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Brown reported from Denver.