Blair Miller

Tim Sheehy, the Bridger Aerospace CEO rumored for months as a recruit for the Republican primary to face incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in next year’s election, announced his candidacy for the race Tuesday morning.

Tester and Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale, who is reportedly also considering running for the seat, both criticized the announcement, saying that Sheehy is backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The 2024 U.S. Senate race is expected to be among the most expensive political races in Montana history as Republicans and Democrats target a handful of states, including Montana, where they believe they can flip seats and either strengthen or regain their power.

A news release from Sheehy’s campaign announcing his candidacy says the businessman and former Navy SEAL says he would bring “a new generation of strong conservative leadership and common-sense solutions” to the race.

“I have a positive vision for the future of our country, with a strong economy, secure borders, and serious leadership in Washington,” Sheehy said in the release. “We can create a better future for our children with common sense solutions, a strong military, standing strong against China, tackling our national debt and ensuring our government officials are accountable to the American people.”

In the release, Sheehy says he started multiple small businesses, including the Belgrade-based Bridger Aerospace, after leaving the military. He said his companies have created “over 200 Montana jobs.”

Sheehy’s announcement carries hallmarks of many Republican campaign announcements. It says he believes “career politicians” have failed to run the government like a business and attacks the Democratic party, as Sheehy’s campaign derides what it says are policies in favor of “open borders, criminals over cops … and a woke culture impacting our classrooms and military bases.”

“My commitment to job creation here in Montana has been steadfast across multiple industries, and I am a firm believer in the power of conservative values and the strength of the American individual,” Sheehy said in the release. “I’ve proudly fought for our country to defend our freedoms, and I’m once again answering the call to serve.”

Sheehy criticized Tester for his years in office and for voting with Democrats the bulk of the time. Tester is Montana’s lone statewide elected Democrat in office, and the 2024 Senate race is expected to be a key race in determining which party holds power in the Senate in 2025.

But before any possibility of facing Tester in November 2024, it’s likely Sheehy will have to win the Republican primary in what could be a hard-fought race. The 2020 and 2018 U.S. Senate races in Montana were the most expensive in state history.

For several months, Axios and Politico have reported that Montana’s other U.S. senator, Republican Steve Daines, who is the current chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has been recruiting Sheehy to run in the race. Daines released a statement through the NRSC Tuesday on Sheehy’s announcement praising his decision.

“Tim Sheehy is a decorated veteran, successful businessman, and a great Montanan,” Daines said. “I could not be happier that he has decided to enter the Montana Senate race.”

Meanwhile, the outlets reported, Club for Growth has been pushing Rosendale to run and square off with Tester for a second time in a Senate race. Tester defeated Rosendale by about 18,000 votes in the 2018 election.

Politico reported last Friday that Rosendale had told lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that he plans to run again for the Senate seat in 2024, though he has not declared his candidacy. But Rosendale also tweeted about Sheehy’s joining the race Tuesday without mentioning him by name.

“Congratulations to Mitch McConnell and the party bosses on getting their chosen candidate. Now Washington has two candidates – Tim Sheehy and Jon Tester – who will protect the DC cartel,” Rosendale tweeted. “Unfortunately for them, Montanans don’t take orders from Washington. I believe that Montanans are tired of business as usual and will reject the McConnell-Biden Establishment.”

While Federal Election Commission records showed that as of Tuesday morning, neither Sheehy or Rosendale had filed to run for Senate, the Democratic Senate campaign arm also said it felt Sheehy’s announcement was setting up a battle between him and Rosendale.

“Sheehy’s campaign launch sets up what will inevitably become a brutal battle between Rep. Matt Rosendale backed by Club for Growth and Sheehy with his deep ties to McConnell, Daines, and Establishment Republicans,” said Senate Majority PAC spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer.

Tester announced in February he was running for reelection to a fourth term next year, saying Montana needs a senator to “hold our government” accountable. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called the Montana Senate seat a “must-win” in 2024.

In a tweet, Tester called Sheehy “Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked candidate,” and linked to his own fundraising website asking for support.

Montana Democratic Party senior communications advisor Monica Robinson pointed to news articles published in recent weeks and months by outlets including the Daily Beast and HuffPost about Sheehy’s luxury properties in Big Sky and on Flathead Lake, and prior criticism of Donald Trump.

“Jon Tester has farm equipment that’s been in Montana longer than Tim Sheehy,” Robinson said in a statement. “The last thing Montanans want in a senator is an out-of-state transplant recruited by Mitch McConnell and DC lobbyists.”

A February Morning Consult poll found Tester had a 60% approval rating in Montana. It had improved since President Joe Biden took office, particularly among unaffiliated voters.

Public Policy Polling survey released last week that polled 510 likely Republican primary voters in Montana found broad favorability for Rosendale over other Republican candidates.

The poll found 64% of respondents supported Rosendale, compared to 10% for Sheehy. Rosendale had a +50% net favorability rating in the poll. Meanwhile, respondents gave Sheehy a 10% favorable, 14% unfavorable rating – which PPP said was “only a nominally greater profile than a name out of the phone book.”

But Sheehy and his supporters in Washington believe his military and business background make him a good fit to face Tester next November.

“Montanans have had enough of these career politicians who are full of empty promises and are not representing our Montana values,” Sheehy said in the release. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership to rebuild America.”