When a local radio host asked Montana Senate candidate Matt Rosendale what differentiated him from the other GOP candidates earlier this year, he had a quick response.
“Piece of cake. Rancher,” he told radio host Aaron Flint in January. “I’m a businessman. I’m a former legislator, and I’m an executive. And I’ve been very effective in each one of those positions.”
But his rancher claim appears to be all hat, no cattle.
Rosendale, the 57-year-old GOP frontrunner to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), has made ranching a central part of his image as he looks to win his June 5 primary and unseat the two-term senator. He regularly peppers his campaign pitch with folksy references to his work on the ranch as a way to prove his authentic connections to the state and inoculate himself against attacks that the Maryland native is a carpetbagger.
But public records and his own past statements indicate the longtime real estate developer never actually ranched his land himself, instead renting it out for others to farm and run their cattle on. And the higher the office he’s run for, the more he’s talked up his supposed ranching experience.
That could be a problem for Rosendale as he looks to hang on for a primary victory next week, as his top primary opponent, former Judge Russ Fagg (R), has repeatedly questioned his roots in the state.
“Matt Rosendale may describe himself as a rancher, but I haven’t met many ranchers who were wealthy east coast real-estate developers until they were 40 years old,” Fagg said in a statement to TPM when asked about Rosendale’s ranching credentials.
Rosendale is expected to win the race. He has big-name support from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), and he has had a lot of help in the race from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, which has been running ads for him and against Fagg.
But his ranching credentials could be an issue if he squares off against Tester in the fall. Tester has long banked on his own homespun credentials including his still-working farm and the fingers he lost in a childhood meat grinder accident to put distance between himself and national Democrats in the Republican-leaning state.
Parts of Montana have experienced rapid growth in recent years as people move in from other states, to the consternation of many native Montanans, and being a developer could prove problematic for some voters. Montana Democrats have already attacked “Maryland Matt” Rosendale as a carpet-bagger — charges similar to those Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others leveled against him during their 2014 House primary.
Rosendale moved from Maryland to a Glendive, Montana ranch in 2002 after a successful career in real estate, and still speaks in a heavy Maryland accent. Not too long after he moved to the state he began running for office, winning a statehouse seat in 2010, moving up to the state Senate in 2013 and becoming state auditor and insurance commissioner at the beginning of 2017 after losing a 2014 primary for the U.S. House.
During that time and especially in his latest campaign, he’s leaned hard into his rancher persona — while at times avoiding mention of his years as an elected official or discussing his decades in real estate. That includes in his paid advertising, when his time in public office is almost never mentioned. His first Senate campaign ad and website both describe him as a “rancher, businessman, proven leader” — a verbal construction he’s used throughout the campaign.
Rosendale has always talked up his Montana ranch connections as a candidate, but he’s done so with increasing force as he’s run for higher office.
That includes his own job description on official campaign paperwork. In 2010 and 2012, Rosendale listed himself as “real estate developer” on his official candidate disclosure forms. In 2016, he listed “ranching and real estate development.”
According to an open records report from the Montana Department Of Revenue conducted for the liberal group American Bridge, Rosendale hasn’t registered ownership of any livestock since 2011 — and before then it was limited to a few horses. It appears that he’s never owned any cattle. He similarly received a registered livestock brand when he bought his $2.2 million ranch in 2002, but let that lapse when it expired in 2011, and it doesn’t appear that he ever used it.
That makes sense if Rosendale hasn’t worked the land much himself.
“Right now my neighbors are leasing the property,” he said in late 2017 when asked in a radio show interview how many cattle he had. “I don’t get back as often, nearly as often as I would like. Serving here in Helena for the state, that is six and a half hours away from where the ranch is.”
(In that same interview he complained that Tester “gets away with trying to pull off this ‘I’m a good old farmer’ act that he does and then he goes back to Washington, D.C. and he votes with the hard left.”)
It seems like leasing out his land been a longstanding arrangement.
“There’s a bunch of irrigated ground and I lease it to one of my neighbors and he grows crops on it, and then there’s dry farmland and I lease that to another neighbor, and then I’ve got all the native pasture and I lease that to another guy who runs cattle,” Rosendale told a local newspaper in his native Eastern Shore of Maryland originally founded by his parents in 2011. “I fix fence, I repair corrals, and I ride my horse and check things out and then when hunting season comes, I probably have 50 to 70 people that I allow to come through my property to hunt.”
“The Trump tax cuts mean business,” he says in the ad as his campaign slogan, “Matt means business,” is branded onto the screen.
Often, his campaign press releases simplydescribehim as a “Glendive rancher,” leaving out mention of his main jobs.
Rosendale has also repeatedly used an almost identical story to describe his work on the ranch.
“I’ve worked the ranch. I’ve hauled sugar beets from the field. I’ve PG’d cows in the fall. And I literally have driven T-Posts into the parched each to help my neighbors rebuild their fences after a prairie fire came through and destroyed everything that they had,” he said during the last GOP primary debate last month, an almost verbatim repetition of a line he’s used elsewhere on the stump including in all four of the Republican debates and candidate forums during the campaign.
It’s unclear whether Rosendale shot his latest ad on his property or elsewhere, or whose cows appear in the ad. His campaign refused to respond to a series of questions about that, whether he’s owned any livestock, why he started describing himself as a rancher in official paperwork after leaving that off in earlier years, and which cows he “PG’d,” an apparent reference to giving cows the hormone prostaglandin for breeding purposes.
“Your ridiculous questions make it pretty clear that you’ve never been to Matt’s ranch in Glendive and you don’t know a cow from a cantaloupe,” Rosendale campaign manager Kendall Cotton told TPM in an email.
On the stump, Rosendale hasn’t hid his work as a real estate developer — “I’ve made my career, made money in real estate and real estate development,” he said in one campaign speech last fall.
But time and again throughout his campaign, he refers to himself as a rancher first before mentioning his real estate background — or goes with the vaguer “rancher and businessman.”
This campaign isn’t the first time people have questioned whether he’s an authentic rancher:
Tester didn’t directly respond when TPM asked if he thought Rosendale was an authentic rancher.
“There’s a lot of retired ranchers that don’t farm anymore that are still ranchers,” he said when asked about Rosendale and if he considered someone is a rancher if they own the land but doesn’t work it. “I haven’t studied his business, but it’s tough to be a rancher when you’re insurance commissioner. But what the heck? I mean, I make this work because we make it work.”
Tester told TPM that he had about 100 acres left to plant on his farm as of Thursday because of the late spring — alfalfa, grains, peas, and safflower for oil.
Rosendale he opened a recent op-ed with a long anecdote about what Washington can learn from rancher values — while going the entire piece without mentioning his real estate work or that he grew up just hours from D.C.
“Like many Montana ranchers, I know the importance of having good neighbors,” he wrote. “When you’re ranching and people are counting on you, you don’t put up with nonsense. You have to get things done. It’s about time Washington D.C. work[s] that way.”
It will be interesting to see if Montana voters decide he’s authentically one of their own.
The Trump administration unveiled a set of executive orders late Friday afternoon aimed at weakening unions that represent federal workers and making it easier for agencies across the government to fire their employees.
Just a few days after Michigan Republicans walked back their controversial plan to exempt several majority-white counties from its proposed Medicaid work requirement after a widespread backlash and accusations of racism, South Dakota unveiled its own proposal that wades into a similar legal and political fight.
The draft waiver the state released this week proposes the implementation of a Medicaid work requirement for a five-year period only in the state’s two most populous counties, Minnehaha and Pennington, home to Sioux Falls and Rapid City respectively. While the both the state and its largest cities are overwhelmingly white, more than two-thirds of the state’s black residents and nearly half of the state’s Hispanic residents live in the two counties where the work requirements would take effect.
The Department of Veterans Affairs this week unilaterally scrapped an Obama-era provision in their labor contract, stripping many of doctors and nurses of the right to have a union representative advocate for them at a hearing at which they are being disciplined or fired.
Just weeks ago, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) told TPM that he thought two Republicans would make it into the runoff election for his seat, locking out Democrats and costing them one of their top pickup opportunities. But this week, he said he thinks that isn’t going to happen.
“The Democratic turnout is exceeding Republican in the absentee [mail vote],” Issa, who is retiring at the end of this term, told TPM on Tuesday. “The Democrats have a machine turning out Democratic votes and that’s probably going to make a difference on June 5 … what they’re doing is designed to make what would otherwise be a failure into a success.”
According to new early vote numbers, Issa is right that that’s less likely to happen in his district. But the numbers suggest Democrats may be in a precarious spot in a few other California districts they’ve been worried about.
Those numbers are compiled by data guru Paul Mitchell, whose team reaches out to each county to get daily vote updates. He said the early data suggested that the electorate is looking a lot more like a normal midterm electorate in the state than one where Democrats are flocking to the polls — a sign that it might be harder to flip these traditionally Republican but Democratic-trending seats in the fall than some Democrats have hoped.
“It’s all bad signs,” he said. “I don’t think these early vote numbers suggest a big blue wave in the primary.”
California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-winners to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races.
In Issa’s seat, where four serious Democratic candidates are vying against three Republicans, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in early mail ballots returned — a big factor in the race as California strategists say at least two thirds of the election’s votes will be cast by mail. Registered Democrats make up 32 percent of the district’s vote-by-mail population but have returned 36 percent of its votes, while Republicans’ returned ballots have matched their 37 percent share of the electorate.
That’s not the case in another key race where Democrats are concerned they might get shut out — a Democratic-leaning district held by retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) where three Democrats including two front-runners are squaring off against a trio of Republicans. And while Democratic strategists who have seen internal polling say this district isn’t at the top of their worry list, the numbers suggest there’s reason for concern here as well, as Republicans are voting at faster numbers than Democrats.
In Royce’s district, registered Democrats make up 34 percent of the vote-by-mail population, the same percentage that have returned ballots. But Republicans, who make up 37 percent of the vote-by-mail population, have returned 46 percent of the ballots received so far.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s GOP-leaning seat more closely mirrors the registered vote population. Democrats make up 30 percent of vote-by-mail registrants and 35 percent of those ballots returned, while Republicans make up for 42 percent of the district’s mail voters and 46 percent of those who have returned ballots.
It’s still relatively early in the election — ballots were sent out in early May, voters have until the June 5 primary to return them. Since there are more competitive Democratic than Republican primaries (including all-party races for governor and senator) Democrats may be more likely to sit on ballots for longer. Different campaigns have different vote-gathering strategies as well, so one shouldn’t over-read these results. But they can be instructive.
Mitchell is a Democrat but his clients include both the California Democratic and Republican parties. He thinks the likelihood of Democrats getting locked out in any particular district remains low — but says there’s a good chance they’ll blow one race, a costly mistake in a year where every seat counts as Democrats try to win back the House majority.
“I believe it’s an unlikely event for this to happen in any one district but if you take five unlikely events you end up with one fairly likely event,” he told TPM.
A Republican super PAC is launching a last-minute effort to boost a handful of House GOP candidates in southern California. The goal is to block Democrats from getting a candidate into the general election in some key House races.
The American Future Fund, an Iowa-based GOP group, has dropped almost $700,000 to boost four GOP candidates in three districts, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.
Their goals are to elevate some flagging Republicans and try to help them make the November ballot in districts that are key to Democrats’ hopes of winning the House this fall.
California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races and immediately costing them chances at a handful of winnable seats in the state.
Republicans had been surprisingly quiet in their response, considering how with some effort now they could guarantee victory in a few key House battles — as well as save themselves a lot of money in November in the expensive districts. But this buy suggests things may be starting to shift.
The GOP super-PAC’s buy includes almost $500,000 on advertising, direct mail and door-to-door voter outreach to boost Rocky Chavez and Diane Harkey, a pair of Republican candidates running for the seat currently held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is retiring. That race is one in which both parties worry they might get shut out and fail to get a candidate through to the November election, though Democrats are more alarmed at the prospect.
The group is also spending $100,000 to boost Scott Baugh, a Republican running against controversial Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). That district is the one where Democratic concerns about being shut out, given their own crowded field, are most acute.
The GOP group is also chipping in about $100,000 to boost Young Kim, the GOP front-runner in the crowded race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).
The efforts for Kim and Harkey began last week, but this is the first evidence that the group’s push is to block Democrats out in some of these districts, rather than help out particular GOP candidates. The group didn’t respond to requests for an explanation of their strategy.
Republicans had expressed growing frustration that their party wasn’t doing more to meddle in these primaries to ensure the best results. Democrats already have spent millions on the races.
Issa told TPM on Tuesday, before these ads had become public, that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were doing a better job organizing in the state, even in traditionally conservative enclaves like his district.
“Pelosi naturally gets us better. That’s not to say anything against Steve,” Issa said, referring to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH). “It’s just that the observation in my district is the Democrats are playing a game that could well get one of their candidates in that otherwise wouldn’t if both sides were playing.”
Other Republicans have also griped about the lack of national intervention to help them.
“You wish the party would recognize this opportunity and lift us up,” GOP strategist John Thomas, who’s working with candidate Shawn Nelson in Royce’s district, told TPM. “They just don’t understand the top-two dynamic.”
Democrats have been spending heavily against Nelson and Bob Huff to avoid them getting into the runoff with Kim, the GOP front-runner, and Republicans still have done little in response to help them.
But the American Future Fund’s late intervention could help move the ball back in Republicans’ direction in these key seats.
In his first testimony before Congress as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was pressed by Democratic House members about allegations that career civil servants at the State Department were targeted for reassignment because of their work under the Obama administration — a possible violation of federal law.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, came out swinging in his opening statement, citing “whistleblowers who have reported to this committee that the Administration has targeted career employees because of their perceived political beliefs.”
When Engel asked Pompeo why the agency has yet to respond to the lawmakers’ request for documents related to these alleged incidents of retaliation, the Secretary of State promised to check on the request, and by the end of this week give them a timeline for obtaining the documents. Pompeo added that if anyone at the Department did engage in such targeting, they should not be employed at State.
A Georgia Republican who pointed his gun at a teenager in a campaign ad and joked about personally rounding up undocumented immigrants will advance to the runoff in the state’s gubernatorial primary.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp earned 25.6 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, placing second behind Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who earned 39 percent.
Left behind are even more extreme candidates like State Sen. Michael Williams, who received plenty of earned media in the final weeks of the race by touring the state in a “deportation bus” but scored only 4.9 percent of the vote.
Kemp, who is vying for the Trump base of rural, deeply conservative voters, will continue to paint Cagle as a moderate. The GOP official honed this message in recent controversial ads, including one where he pointed a gun at a teenager who was asking permission to date his daughter and another in which he pledged to hunt down “criminal illegals” in his “big truck” and personally remove them from the country.
“Yep, I just said that,” seems to be Kemp’s new self-consciously anti-politically correct tagline.
He used it in the “So Conservative” ad on immigration, and repeated it at a Tuesday election night party in Athens, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“He’s not a leader. He’s a puppet,” Kemp said of Cagle. “Yeah, I just said that. He’s not fighting for us. He’s fighting for those with deep pockets whose interests are not ours.”
As Georgia’s top elections officials, Kemp has supported a restrictive approach to voting and registration, drawing the ire of voting rights advocates.
Whoever wins the July 24 runoff will face off against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who won her own primary in a landslide. If Abrams wins, she will become the country’s first black female governor.
When the Trump administration set about chipping away at the Affordable Care Act immediately upon taking office, it was widely predicted that the policy changes and outreach cuts would create the biggest hurdles for the groups most likely to vote Democratic — including young people, people of color, and the poor. Many months later, new reports on the national uninsured rate suggest the opposite may be true: the Trump administration’s health care agenda is whacking red states hardest.