HELENA — Former six-term U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said Thursday he has not ruled out running this year for the U.S. House seat he vacated just one year ago, and is keeping his options open.
“People just started contacting me and asked, ‘Will you consider it?’ “ Rehberg said in an interview. “I like what I’m doing, expanding a small business, but I haven’t ruled it out.”
Calls have come from people in Montana and Washington, D.C., he said.
Rehberg said he would bring some advantages if he runs for his old House seat and wins.
“I think I have a lot to offer the people,” Rehberg said. “I could hit the ground running to work on all the problems that exist that we warned the public about like Obamacare and the direction of Washington.”
He has set no deadline for making a decision. The Montana political filing period this year runs from Jan. 9 to March 10.
Four Republicans and one Democrat have already announced for the open U.S. House seat, with two more Republicans who will probably enter the race soon. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is running for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat.
“I have an opportunity to think about it,” Rehberg said. “It’s not as critical for me to get started as early as them. I have my own due diligence. I’m getting around Montana a lot with my small business. I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of Montanans. I want to earn Montanans’ trust and respect and vote if I jump into this.”
Rehberg lost a bruising senate race challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2012. Tester won, 49 percent to 45 percent, with a third-party candidate getting the remainder.
Rehberg, 58, has been a fixture in Montana politics for most of four decades. He served as a legislator from Billings in the 1980s, as lieutenant governor under two governors in the 1990s and as the state’s congressman from 2001 to 2013.
Since leaving Congress, Rehberg said he, his wife and a relative are opening a Burger King franchise in Billings that will employ 43 people. They hope to build three more across the state this year. In March, he also became a co-chairman of Mercury Public Affairs, a national Washington, D.C.-based public strategy firm.
Rehberg talked about changes in Montana’s congressional delegation.
“If we’re going to have a new senator and a new House member, we’re losing a lot of seniority and institutional knowledge,” Rehberg said.
He was referring to President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to be ambassador to China. Baucus has said he will resign the Senate seat once confirmed for the post and had announced in April he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Daines and two other Republicans are running for Baucus’ seat, and three Democrats are seeking their party’s Senate nomination.
If he returns to Congress, Rehberg said he would retain his 12 years of House seniority. That, combined with retirements, would give him a subcommittee chairmanship on the House Appropriations Committee, provided Republicans maintain their House majority, he said. When Rehberg left the House, he headed the Appropriations subcommittee for education, health care and labor budgets.
Four Republicans have already announced their House candidacies. They are state Sen. Matt Rosendale, of Glendive; former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, of Billings; Drew Turiano, of Helena; and former state Sen. Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish.
Two other Republicans, state Sen. Elsie Arntzen, of Billings, and former Secretary of State Brad Johnson, of East Helena, have said they would enter the House race after the holidays. On Thursday, however, Johnson said he may look instead at the open seat on the Montana Public Service Commission being vacated by Commissioner Bill Gallagher, R-Helena.
John Lewis, of Helena, a former top aide to Baucus, is the lone Democrat in the race.
Without mentioning him by name, Rehberg said Lewis was “handpicked” for the House by Baucus, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Lewis “has his fingers all over Obamacare and all of Max’s issues,” Rehberg said.
In response, Molly Bell, spokeswoman for Lewis’ campaign said, “Montanans already rejected Congressman Dennis Rehberg because he never put politics aside to find solutions for Montana — and that’s what John Lewis has done quietly and effectively for years. John Lewis is the independent leader Montana needs in Congress.”