Republican Senate primary: Rosendale posts come-from-behind win over Fagg

State Auditor Matt Rosendale will be the Republican nominee facing incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in November. (Chuck Johnson)

HELENA— State Auditor Matt Rosendale came from behind to defeat former Billings District Judge Russ Fagg Tuesday night in an often-bitter fight to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Shortly before midnight, Politico and the Associated Press separately declared Rosendale the winner in the four-way primary.

Final, unofficial totals posted early Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s office showed these results:

♦ Rosendale, 51,546 votes, 34 percent.

♦ Fagg, 43,225 votes, 28 percent.

♦ Troy Downing, a businessman from Big Sky, 29, 151 votes, 19 percent.

♦ Al Olszewski, a surgeon and state senator from Kalispell, 28,557, 19 percent.

While waiting for Rosendale to appear, some of his campaign television ads played over the big-screen televisions in the meeting room at the Radisson Colonial Hotel in Helena.  Then, the song, “Takin’ Care of Business,” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive blared over the loud-speaker system.

Rosendale then stepped out from behind a curtain, accompanied by his wife, Jean, as the crowd cheered.

“OK, this is what we’ve been waiting for,” Rosendale said. “All glory and honor to God.”

He went on to say, “The battle of the flattops has finally begun,” referring to his and Tester’s old-style haircuts. “Tonight, we are one step closer to defeating Jon Tester.”

Rosendale said he would save his victory speech until November when he defeats Tester.  He said the race for the Montana Senate seat will be one of the nation’s most competitive.

“Jon Tester is vulnerable, and President Trump has made winning Montana a priority,” Rosendale said. “Jon Tester’s not the same person he was when he entered the Senate nearly 12 years ago. He’s gone Washington. He’s hanging out with the lobbyists and the elitists.”

Rosendale said Tester says one thing in Montana but goes back to Washington, D.C., and takes his counsel from Democratic minority leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

“He has forgotten about the people he represents here in Montana,” Rosendale said.  “Enough is enough. He has to run a campaign on denials. That is the only opportunity he has. He has to deny reality that Obamacare is a train wreck. He has to deny the reality that the VA is in shambles. He has to deny the reality that you have more money in your paycheck because of the legislation that was just recently passed that he voted against, by the way.”

Montana Republicans need to unite for him to win, Rosendale said.

“If we can pull together, we can send him back to Big Sandy,” he said.

He added, “Folks, I am not running in this to race to bring home the bacon.  I am running this race to slaughter the hog of big government.”

The race between Rosendale and Fagg was highly contentious.

Rosendale benefited from the $1.2 million in independent expenditures by a national conservative group, Club for Growth, that attacked Fagg as being soft on crime as a judge.

Fagg, in turn, questioned Rosendale’s credentials and suggested the victor’s claims that he is a Montana rancher “all hat and no cattle” since he leases out the ranch and raises no livestock.

Thanks to a big lead in his home county of Yellowstone, Fagg came out of the blocks with an early lead Tuesday night. Rosendale gradually caught up to get the nomination.