Five Republicans looking at House race—if Daines runs for Senate

2013-07-22T19:09:00Z 2014-05-30T11:09:24Z Five Republicans looking at House race—if Daines runs for SenateBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
July 22, 2013 7:09 pm  • 

HELENA -- A former secretary of state and four current or ex-legislators are among the Republicans looking to run for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat if Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., enters the Senate race instead of seeking re-election.

They are former Secretary of State Brad Johnson of East Helena and Sens. Matt Rosendale of Glendive and Jon Sonju of Kalispell; Rep. Scott Reichner of Bigfork; and former Sen. Ryan Zinke of Kalispell.

All eyes are on Daines, the first-term congressman who has yet to announce whether he’ll run for the Senate seat being vacated by six-term Democratic incumbent Max Baucus, who announced in April he would retire.

Here’s a look at the potential Republican House candidates, with all saying they would run for the House only if Daines goes for the Senate:

--Johnson. The only one of the five potential candidates to win statewide office, Johnson was secretary of state from 2005-2008, and lost bids for the office in 2008 and 2012. Johnson, 62, is a consultant for Ecosphere Energy Oil of Florida and a staffer for former Republican Congressman Ron Marlenee.

“Given my experience and my long-standing commitment to public service, I really think it would be something I need to give very serious consideration,” Johnson said. “I am so well-steeped in the economic and agricultural and natural resource issues that are so important to Montana.”

In the four-way 2012 GOP primary for secretary of state, Johnson won with 55 percent of the vote, topping the party establishment’s favorite by more than 30 percentage points.

--Reichner. The three-term legislator said he is considering running for the House if Daines doesn’t and if former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, former Gov. Marc Racicot or current Attorney General Tim Fox don’t run.

“If it’s a level playing field with guys that have similar backgrounds, I’m very interested,” said Reichner, 46, owner of a mortgage brokerage company. “I’ve made a name for myself in the Legislature with the things I’ve been able to accomplish, like the workers’ compensation overhaul in 2011 that has saved employers 26 percent in premium.”

Last year, Reichner chaired Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Montana campaign and was state finance chairman for Hill’s gubernatorial campaign.

“I learned from that experience how to raise money,” he said. “I’ve built a network statewide.”

--Rosendale. The Glendive real estate developer and rancher is serving his first term in the state Senate after one House term. Rosendale is looking at either the House or the Senate, but wouldn’t run against Daines.

‘I’ve been doing some traveling around the state to gauge my support,” he said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised the last 30 days. I know I could do the job. I share the same values and principles of the people of Montana.”

That’s why the Maryland native said he moved here in 2002.

Rosendale pointed to his record of passing two bills with bipartisan support. One was a major land-use bill and the other limits the use of drones in the state and the use of any data collected.

--Sonju. The veteran state legislator said his future plans will depend on what Daines does. Sonju recently announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the state Senate after one term. He previously served three terms in the state House.

“I’m ready to turn that page and look again at a statewide office,” Sonju said, emphasizing he won’t run against Daines for Congress.

Sonju, now 37, ran for the lieutenant governor in 2012 on the ticket headed by Rick Hill. They narrowly lost to Democrats Steve Bullock and John Walsh in the general election.

“I’ve been getting calls from people who supported the Hill-Sonju ticket,” he said.

Sonju is business development manager at Sonju Industries and has an interest in SI Defense, which manufactures weapons. Both are family businesses.

--Zinke. The former state senator and 2012 lieutenant governor candidate said he would consider running for the House if Daines doesn’t.

“If nothing else, I’m not an establishment candidate,” Zinke said. “I’m a Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, blue-collar hardworking candidate, I’m proud of my party, but I will read the bills.”

Zinke, 51, former commander of Navy SEAL Team Six, is now a board member of STWA, a company coming up with solutions to the efficiency of industrial crude oil pipelines through viscosity reduction.

He is chairman of Special Operations for America, a national super PAC that opposed President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. If he seeks political office, Zinke said he will resign his voluntary post.

Another Republican state representative, Champ Edmunds of Missoula, who is running for the Senate seat, said he will seek the House seat if Daines gets in the Senate race.

The other announced Republican Senate candidate, former Republican state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings, has not indicated whether he’d switch to the House race if Daines goes for the Senate.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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