HELENA — Three former Montana Republican Party chairmen took the unusual step Monday of uniting to publicly oppose former state Sen. Ryan Zinke's bid to win the GOP nomination for U.S. House in next month's primary election.
State Sen. John Brenden of Scobey, former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill and former gubernatorial candidate Ken Miller released a statement saying the Whitefish Republican's views aren't conservative enough.
"Ryan is trying to characterize himself as a staunch conservative and that's just not his record," Hill told The Associated Press. "If Montanans want to nominate a quite moderate Republican, I'm OK with that. I just want to make sure they know what they're doing."
Zinke, who has raised far more money than any other candidate in the race, countered by saying the three former party chairmen are threatened that he may win the primary over their favored candidates.
"It's clear to me we need a new direction in the Republican Party," Zinke said. "The Republican Party needs to transition from a party of 'no' to a party of 'go.'"
Zinke faces state Sens. Matthew Rosendale and Elsie Arntzen, along with former state Sen. Corey Stapleton and Drew Turiano of Helena in the June 3 primary. The winner goes up against the Democratic nominee, either former Max Baucus aide John Lewis or former state Rep. John Driscoll, in November's general election.
Brenden, party chairman from 1983-1987, has endorsed Rosendale. Hill, party chairman from 1991-1992, is backing Arntzen. Miller, the party chairman from 2001-2003, said he supports any candidate other than Zinke.
The three said Zinke has voted as a legislator against Republican bills on natural-resource development and workers' compensation. Zinke also voted against bills in 2009 that would have banned abortions by defining life as beginning at conception, receiving a favorable rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana that year, which the pro-abortion group erased in the next legislative session.
"I'm a Montana conservative," Zinke said. "The record is that Ryan Zinke is fiscally conservative, supports infrastructure, is pro-gun, pro-life and pro-business."
Hill also questioned Zinke's ties to a political-action committee he founded, Special Operations for America. Zinke was the chairman of the PAC until he resigned the month before announcing his House candidacy, and SOFA PAC has since run ads in his support.
Two campaign advocacy groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing Zinke and SOFA PAC of illegal coordination. Zinke has denied any wrongdoing.