Matt Rosendale is entering the Montana Senate race, starting with a Republican battle

Former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Tim Sheehy for the Republican Senate nomination in Montana on Friday, putting his powerful imp in the primary race on the same day one of his longtime allies, Rep. Matt Rosendale, announced his campaign.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Rosendale campaigned together in 2018, when Mr. Rosendale’s first attempt to unseat Sen. Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, failed. But the House lawmaker’s defeat in that race — and his failure to sooner endorse Mr. Trump’s latest presidential bid — convinced the former president to back Mr. Sheehy.

In a statement, Mr. Trump said he respected Mr. Rosendale and would be happy to support a House bid if he changed his mind about running for the Senate. He also noted the endorsement of Mr. Sheehy by Senator Steve Daines, the Montana Republican who oversees the Senate Republican campaign arm, who has developed a close relationship with the former president.

“Tim is the candidate who is best positioned right now” to defeat Mr. Tester, Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Rosendale entered the race on Friday from the far-right corner of the party. He is a staunch opponent of abortion rights who voted to nullify the 2020 election, and played a key role last year in ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, as speaker of the House.

But while that resume would normally make him a darling of Mr. Trump’s political movement, many of the former president’s loyalists have rallied behind Mr. Sheehy, a retired Navy SEAL and founder of an aerial firefighting company who launched his own Senate campaign in July.

A telegenic father of four young children and recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Mr. Sheehy comes across as the “central casting” look that Mr. Trump is looking for in many candidates.

Mr. Rosendale, on the other hand, riled the former president during a fight for House Speaker. From the floor of the House of Representatives, Mr. Rosendale appeared to reject a phone call from Mr. Trump, who wanted to talk to him about his support for Mr. McCarthy for Speaker.

The winner of the primary will face Mr. Tester, a Democrat seeking his fourth term. Mr. Tester has been one of the most popular senators in the country, according to Morning Consult polls, but is seen as a vulnerable president because of the deep red nature of the state, which Mr. Trump won by 16 percentage points in 2020. Montana also has a Republican governor and a Republican majority in the legislature.

Before this year, the only time Mr. Tester handed out a ballot in a presidential race in 2012, when President Barack Obama reached a second term. Mr. Obama lost Montana by 13.5 points that year, but Mr. Tester won his race by four points.

In Mr. Tester’s re-election bid in 2018, he defeated Mr. Rosendale, 50.3 percent to 46.8 percent. That loss influenced the decision by Republican leaders, including Mr. Daines, to recruit Mr. Sheehy to this year’s race. Mr. Daines oversees the party’s Senate races as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Montana Democrats hailed Mr. Rosendale’s entry into the race, calling him Washington Republicans’ “worst nightmare” while offering an outline of their own plans to attack both Republican candidates as out-of-state. Mr. Rosendale, a native of Maryland, has lived in Montana for about two decades. Mr. Sheehy, who was born in Minnesota, founded his company in Montana about ten years ago.

“Brace yourself to fight outsiders,” said Hannah Rehm, senior communications adviser for the Montana Democratic Party. “Over the coming months, Montanans will see how out of touch Maryland Matt and the Transplant Team are with our state.”

Mr. Daines, in several ways, helped Mr. Sheehy win the support of Trump loyalists and deep-pocketed Republican donors, two forces within the party that have regularly worked at cross purposes in recent years. Mr. Sheehy was endorsed by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and a super PAC supporting Mr. Sheehy has raised millions from wealthy Wall Street executives.

“It is unfortunate that instead of building a legacy for our great state in the House of Representatives, Matt is choosing to leave his seat and create campaign divisions,” Mr Daines said in a statement on Friday. “Whichever party wins Montana’s Senate seat will control the United States Senate in 2024, and Republicans cannot risk nominating the candidate who gave Jon Tester the biggest victory of his career.”

Mr. Sheehy also contributed about $1 million to his campaign, on which he spent more than $4 million last year and entered this year with about $1.3 million on hand.

But while Mr. Sheehy is seeking his first elected office, Mr. Rosendale is a well-known figure in Montana Republican politics. The Senate race will be Mr. Rosendale’s eighth political campaign in 14 years. In his previous seven contests — four federal races, two state legislative campaigns and one for state auditor — Mr. Rosendale has won five and lost two.

Mr. Rosendale has the support of key figures in Trump’s orbit, including Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, and Florida Representative Matt Gaetz. However, he notably lacks the support of Mr. Trump himself and his son, Donald Trump Jr., both of whom campaigned with Mr. Rosendale repeatedly during the 2018 Senate race.

Those pro-Trump forces showed their strength on Wednesday when the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, backed away from his plan to endorse Mr. Rosendale after facing criticism from top Republican officials and prominent Trump supporters.

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