HELENA – With the primary election for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat nine months away, five Republicans and one Democrat say they are looking to run.
But those numbers certainly could change. They already did last week, with two House hopefuls dropping out of the race.
The other GOP candidacies all hinge upon the Republican incumbent, freshman Rep. Steve Daines, jumping into the race for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat.
So far, all Daines has said is he’s thinking about the Senate race and discussing it with his family and supporters. State Republicans privately say Daines is all but certain to run for the Senate.
If so, the Republicans expected to run for the House are four current or former state legislators and an ex-statewide official. They are Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula and Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive, former Sens. Corey Stapleton of Billings and Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, and ex-Secretary of State Brad Johnson of East Helena.
John Lewis of Helena, former state director for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, has the Democratic field to himself so far.
Interest in the House race has paled in comparison to the national attention the open Senate seat has drawn since Baucus announced in April he would retire and not seek a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.
It’s been a challenge to keep track of the candidates for the House – who’s in, who’s out and who’s a maybe.
On Thursday, Sen. Jon Sonju, R-Kalispell, pulled the plug on his pending candidacy two weeks after saying he was “all in” the race. Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, said he was forgoing the federal race for the Montana Senate.
Here’s a look at the potential House candidates for 2014:
• Champ Edmunds. The Missoula mortgage banker is officially still in the Senate race and has been running since early 2013. Through June 30, he had raised about $13,700 and reported having $1,800 remaining. He’ll be able to transfer any money remaining to his House race. The next federal campaign finance reports are due Oct. 15.
“Once Steve announces, I’ll move aside like I told him I would,” said Edmunds, who is completing his second term in the Montana House.
As a candidate, Edmunds has advocated a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget and a prohibition of legislative riders.
• Brad Johnson. A consultant, Johnson was elected secretary of state in 2004, but he lost a bid for re-election in 2008 and again in 2012.
“I’ve said all along I’m going to let Steve (Daines) make his decision first and formal, and then I’ll proceed,” Johnson said. “I fully expect to be a candidate. So we’re laying the groundwork. As soon as Steve makes up his mind, we’ll have some things in gear ready to go.”
Johnson has run for a number of public offices in Montana over the years, including the House, Senate and Public Service Commission.
• Matt Rosendale. The state senator said he told federal election officials he was running for a federal office in 2014 but never declared which one, so he can go for the House if necessary.
“I’m watching the field to see what Steve Daines does,” he said. “I’ve been very pleased with the work he’s doing in Washington. I wouldn’t run against him. I’ve been very encouraged by the amount of support I’ve received from across the state.”
Rosendale, a real estate developer, served his first session in the Senate this year after one in the House in 2011.
• Corey Stapleton. He dropped his Senate candidacy in September and switched to the House to help clear the way for Daines. Stapleton raised about $232,000 by June 30 for his Senate race and had $77,000 left that can go to his House race.
“I’m grateful for the situation,” Stapleton said after changing races. “I think it increases our chances of winning both races next year. It would be an honor to be our lone congressman.”
He served in the Montana Senate from 2001 to 2009 and was runner-up in the seven-candidate 2012 GOP field for governor.
• Ryan Zinke. Zinke, a retired U.S. Navy officer who served in the SEALs, was in the Montana Senate from 2009 to 2013.
“I’m very interested in the House,” the businessman said. “I think the future looks pretty good. I’ve been going around the state looking at support and I found American exceptionalism and less politics and more leadership resonates. I think everyone’s frustrated at the political process. If I have a message, it’s about unity for America.”
He made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2012 on the GOP ticket headed by Neil Livingstone.
As for the Democrats, John Lewis is the only House candidate so far, as state Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, who was considering the race, has decided against it.
Lewis could not be reached for comment, but in late August filed the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to start raising money.
“Montanans are asking John to be a candidate because we need more independent-minded public servants committed to good-paying jobs and working together to find solutions – like looking after our families and neighbors and living within our means, his spokesman, Aaron Murphy, said then.
Lewis worked for Baucus for more than a decade, including three years as his state director, before resigning in August.
Curtis, meanwhile, said she decided not to run.
“I talked to several people,” she said. “We all agreed (she shouldn’t run for Congress next year.) I’m only 33.”
Curtis said she is deciding whether to run for the state House next year or to sit out and let more veteran representatives run for the seat and run for the state Senate in 2016.