Editor’s note: This story kicks off a series on the Republican primary race for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House. Last week, stories covered the Democrats running for the House. Those stories are available on Missoulian.com.
HELENA – Five Republicans – all but one of them current or former state legislators –are vying for their party’s nomination for the U.S. House in the June 3 primary.
They are state Sen. Elsie Arntzen of Billings, state Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings, former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish and Drew Turiano of Helena.
They are running for the House seat being vacated by first-term Rep. Steve Daines, also a Republican, who is a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The Republican nominee will face off in November against whichever Helena man wins the Democratic primary – either former Public Service Commissioner John Driscoll or John Lewis, who was a top aide to former Sen. Max Baucus. Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula also will be on the fall ballot.
State Republican chairman Will Deschamps of Missoula said he believes one of the four Republicans who have served in the Legislature will win the primary, with Turiano failing to get any traction.
“The other four, I think we’d be fortunate with any of them,” Deschamps said.
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, said, “The name of the game is who’s on TV the longest and who’s got the best grass-roots organization.”
Parker said he believes the primary race will come down to Zinke and Rosendale. They have raised the most money, although he said Rosendale hasn’t been as successful as Zinke.
Campaign finance reports filed last week showed Zinke has raised nearly $910,000 through March 31, while Rosendale collected about $642,000, including $500,000 in loans from himself. Zinke had about $424,000 left in the bank on March 31, while Rosendale had about $222,000.
“Zinke has the resources and a compelling background,” Parker said. “The man was a Navy SEAL. In the hierarchy of military experience, that’s darned near the top.”
Rosendale, a real estate developer, has Libertarians and Republican” Young Guns.” a group of younger party members, helping form a solid organization behind him, Parker said.
“At the end of the day, you can do it with a grass-roots organization like Rosendale, or you can do it with money, like Zinke,” the MSU professor said.
Zinke, CEO of a consulting firm, served two sessions in the state Senate, while Rosendale has one session in the Senate and one in the House under his belt.
Arntzen, a teacher who announced in January, was the last of the five Republicans to jump in the race.
In one quarter, she raised more than $133,000, including a $63,000 loan from herself, and had about $51,500 left in the bank on March 31. Arntzen has served one session in the Senate and four in the House.
“The wild card is Elsie,” Parker said. “She jumped in the race a lot later. I don’t think she’s as polished as the other two candidates (Zinke and Rosendale). She has the most experience. Her husband has money that could find its way into her campaign.”
Stapleton, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy officer who works as a financial adviser, served four sessions in the Senate.
“Stapleton started out as an odds-on favorite, but has faded,” Parker said. “He hasn’t raised as much money.”
Reports show Stapleton has raised nearly $375,000 and reported having more than $55,000 left in the bank on March 31.
He was the runner-up to Rick Hill in the seven-way race for the Republican nomination for governor in 2012.
He and Arntzen are the only candidates who live in Yellowstone County, the state’s most populous. One out of every seven votes statewide is from Yellowstone County.
Turiano, who lost a bid for the Republican nomination for secretary of state two years ago, has raised only about $8,800. That includes a $6,700 loan from himself. He had $720 remaining on March 31.
Parker said Zinke should run strongly in Flathead County, while Rosendale should lead the pack in eastern Montana.
“It will probably come down to who’s organizing in Missoula, Bozeman and Billings,” he said.
Rosendale and Stapleton both began statewide television advertising last week.
Rosendale’s ad, which depicted him shooting down a drone to protest the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans, has drawn national attention.
Stapleton’s ad showed him standing by the railyard in Billings, saying how folks are upset with being lied to by the federal government.
From Jan. 8 to June 2, Rosendale already has spent or booked $129,657 in TV ads, with 52 percent going on broadcast television and the other 48 percent on cable television, according to documents obtained by the Missoulian State Bureau.
Over the same period, Stapleton has spent or booked $52,450 in TV ads, with 95 percent on broadcast television and the other 5 percent on cable television, the documents showed.
In addition, Special Operations for America, a super PAC, has spent and booked ads totaling $39,970 in support of Zinke. Cable TV buys make up 67 percent of the spending, followed by 31 percent on radio and 2 percent on broadcast television, the documents showed.
As for Zinke’s campaign, it has not yet booked any advertising. His campaign manager, Robert Kearley, declined to comment on the campaign’s media advertising strategy.
These documents on media buys are revised weekly as campaigns make additional media purchases.
Coming Monday: A look at state Sen. Elsie Arntzen, one of the five Republicans running for the U.S. House.