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Republican Matt Rosendale

Rosendale

Matt Rosendale, fresh off of his GOP Senate primary victory, is declining to debate U.S. Sen. Jon Tester this weekend, citing Father’s Day plans.

Rosendale’s campaign notified the Montana Broadcasters Association on Monday the candidate never committed to the debate, which MBA had planned to broadcast statewide Sunday morning from its annual convention in Whitefish.

“This debate was scheduled and organized without any input or agreement to attend from our campaign – and it was scheduled on Father’s Day,” said Shane Scanlon, Rosendale communications director. “We didn’t agree to attend since Matt is spending the day with his wife and sons, and he's not moving that around nor should he.”

Rosendale secured 34 percent of the Republican primary vote last week to win a four-way battle for GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Green Party candidate Steve Kelly and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge also advanced.

NBC Montana reports that Rosendale had confirmed to the network last week that he would be attending the debate: “You’ll see me In Whitefish; I just hope that everyone is going to be able to participate and that Jon Tester isn’t able to control this thing and keep other parties from participating,” is how the news station Monday recalled Rosendale’s comments.

Rosendale is Montana’s state auditor and insurance commissioner.

Tester spokesman Chris Meagher said it was disappointing there would be no Sunday debate. The Democratic senator still plans to attend the convention.

"After agreeing to Sunday's debate in Whitefish, Matt Rosendale has decided at the last minute to bail, and duck Montana voters. Maybe he’s not prepared to defend the fact that he’s not a real rancher and owns no cattle, or why he signed under penalty of perjury that he was a Maryland resident to get a tax break. Maybe he’s not ready to talk about how he rubberstamped higher health care rates for Montanans. Or maybe he’s not ready to defend his terrible anti-veteran and anti-public land record,” Meagher said. “Whatever the excuse is, it’s disappointing. This debate is a Montana tradition, but of course Montana traditions mean nothing to Maryland Matt. Montana voters can't trust Matt Rosendale to keep his word, but Jon Tester will be in Whitefish whether Matt Rosendale is there or not.”

Scanlon said Tester wasn’t telling the truth about Rosendale’s debate commitment. The Republican nominee has agreed to two other debates, Scanlon said, one organized by Montana PBS and another organized by MTN News.

After declining the debate opportunity in Whitefish, Rosendale gave Tester a five-debate challenge and accused the two-term incumbent of abandoning Montana.

“The question to Jon Tester: Is he going to accept Matt's five debate challenge or not?” Scanlon said. “Tester has a lot to explain to the people of Montana for his anti-Trump, liberal obstructionist agenda."

There was never a contract committing Rosendale to a debate Sunday, said Dewey Bruce, Montana Broadcasting CEO and president. However, Rosendale had indicated to MBA members that he would participate. MBA had reached out the candidates two months ago about a debate to take place June 17.

"We've been talking to the candidates since before the primary, trying to set it up because it was such a short time between the primary and when we wanted to do the debate," Bruce said. "When Rosendale won the primary, I was talking with Kendall Cotton, who is his campaign manager. He had not necessarily committed, although there had been some talk with other people who are connected to broadcasting that he was going to do the debate. There was nothing in writing. I want to make that clear, but I wish he would have told us last week." 

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.