Montana GOP Senate Front-Runner’s Campaign Rides Turbulence as Voters Head to Polls

Tim Sheehy is favored to take on three-term Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, but questions about his youth, business dealings, and a bullet in his arm shadow his odds.

HELENA, Mont.–The candidate’s resume is perfect: former Navy SEAL combat veteran with a “V” for Valor Bronze Star and Purple Heart, successful entrepreneur, rancher, energetic young father who is a conservative in a red state endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

By all indications, Tim Sheehy, 38, appears to be the ideal Republican candidate to unseat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who has defied the odds three times since 2006 to be elected to the U.S. Senate in GOP-dominated Montana.

That Sheehy–Tester November showdown seemed inevitable not long ago, especially after Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), in the wake of President Trump’s Sheehy endorsement, announced in April he was withdrawing from the race, making the newcomer the clear front-runner.

But with the opening of Montana primary polls only hours away—7 a.m. June 4—that assumption is hazy.

The Sheehy campaign is embroiled in snags spun by the neophyte candidate, spurring questions about his Minnesota upbringing, military service, and business dealings.

Among toe-stubs hampering Mr. Sheehy’s projected cakewalk is an April lawsuit against Mr. Sheehy; his brother, Matthew; and Bridger Management Holdings, the former parent company Bridger Aerospace, his aerial firefighting and surveillance company, and Ascent Vision Technologies, their drone company.

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Two former Bridger employees allege the Sheehy brothers played a shell game with the equity of the three companies, forcing them and as many as five others to sell stock in their compensation package before Bridger Management Holdings sold a subsidiary for hundreds of millions of dollars and then took Bridger Aerospace public in 2023.

Mr. Sheehy refutes the claims, and his campaign maintains that the lawsuit “is frivolous and riddled with legal and factual inaccuracies,” adding that the candidate is looking forward to “strenuously defending the allegations in court.”

There’s also swirling fog regarding Mr. Sheehy’s claims about a bullet lodged in his arm. On campaign stumps, he says the wound was suffered in combat in Afghanistan, although it’s not listed on his service record.

In 2015, he told a Glacier National Park ranger he accidentally discharged his Colt .45 and shot himself in the arm. He was fined for illegally discharging a weapon in the park.

The discrepancy is among a number of issues raised in a series of Washington Post stories in which Mr. Sheehy said he did not disclose the gunshot in Afghanistan because it may have “negatively impacted platoon-mates.”

Mr. Sheehy said he did not shoot himself in the park in 2015. He fell, injured his arm, and in the emergency room, alerted staff to the bullet in his arm, which is why a ranger was called.

There are questions about his Minnesota roots. Mr. Sheehy maintains that he grew up in “Anoka County, rural part of the state,” when both of his boyhood homes were on Turtle Lake in Ramsey County, an affluent suburban area north of Minneapolis.

What he doesn’t say is his grandfather, Cyril Sheehy, owned Sheehy Construction Co. and Sheehy Bridge Construction Co., among Minnesota’s largest construction companies for decades. Observers cite the omission as an apparent effort to avoid a “wealthy outsider” label that may not be damaging in a rapidly growing state with many newcomers.

Former Montana Secretary of State and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Brad Johnson unveils his campaign theme before Ravalli County’s Constitutional Conservatives at Ravalli County Fairgrounds in April 2024. (Brad for Montana)
Former Montana Secretary of State and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Brad Johnson unveils his campaign theme before Ravalli County’s Constitutional Conservatives at Ravalli County Fairgrounds in April 2024. (Brad for Montana)

Questions Cloud Cakewalk

All this has not only buoyed Mr. Tester’s fall prospects for a fourth term—the Montana Democrat Party has created a website—but also propelled former Montana Secretary of State and Public Service Commission chair Brad Johnson’s candidacy from an also-ran into a viable GOP Senate primary contender.

When Mr. Johnson, 72, a 40-year veteran of Montana politics, declared his candidacy in an announcement on Oct. 17, 2023, he noted even before the lawsuits and gunshot wound confusion that Montana voters don’t really know who Mr. Sheehy is since he’s only lived in the state since 2014.

“I am running because this isn’t an election we can relegate to slick DC gimmicks nor second chances with failed candidates,” he said. “We are losing our country, and it is time for real leadership that shoots straight with Montanans, understands our values, and gets things done for our future.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Sheehy is still the favorite of the Republican hierarchy to challenge Mr. Tester.

In addition to President Trump, he’s backed by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He secured the nod from the National Rifle Association on June 3.

Much is riding on the Montana U.S. Senate race. There are 34 Senate seats on Nov. 5 ballots, including 20 held by Democrats, three by independents, and 11 by Republicans.

Of the 20 seats now held by Democrats, at least eight are in states defined as “competitive” by elections rating services such as Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections. Three Senate Democrats are in states won by President Trump in 2020: West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana.

Therefore, Republicans are confident they can gain control of the chamber in 2025 now led by Democrats, 51–49. Defeating Mr. Tester in Montana is key to that aspiration.

Yet Mr. Tester, a third-generation rancher regarded as a moderate with a solid 61 percent favorable rating among state voters, has managed to be elected three times as a Democrat in Montana. He could not have done so in 2018 without being endorsed by a significant segment of those who voted to reelect President Trump by a 99,000-vote margin, receiving nearly 344,000 votes in 2020.

Since 1900, Montana voters have sent 14 Democrats to the U.S. Senate, compared with just five Republicans. Despite the heavy red lean, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Inside Elections, and the American Enterprise Institute rate the Tester-vs.-GOP challenger race a “toss-up,” and Cook Political Report classifies it as leaning Democrat.

According to Mr. Tester’s May 22 filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), he has raised more than $36.6 million and spent little of it in anticipation of a rigorous general election race. His campaign is aided by national donors as Democrats fight to retain the seat.

Therefore, Mr. Sheehy is concentrating on challenging the Biden administration and Democrat policies and not on a prospective primary scrum with Mr. Johnson, his campaign steadfastly maintains.

As of May 22, Mr. Sheehy’s campaign reported raising $10.45 million, while Mr. Johnson’s FEC filing showed less than $43,000 in contributions.

Although there aren’t any published polls surveying how GOP voters view the Sheehy–Johnson primary race, several aging polls show Mr. Sheehy as a viable challenger in a tight contest against Mr. Tester.

The latest documented by FiveThirtyEight is a March 26–29 survey of 503 likely voters by J.L. Partners that showed Mr. Sheehy with a 3-percentage point lead over Mr. Tester, 48 percent to 45 percent.

A Feb. 26 to March 2 canvass of 1,000 Republican voters by Emerson College indicated that Mr. Tester, with 44 percent, had a marginal advantage over Mr. Sheehy’s 42.4 percent.

Previous polls had Mr. Tester ahead by anywhere from 4 to 10 percentage points, indicating that despite bumps along the way—mistakes supporters and boosters shrug off as the result of a neophyte candidate’s being thrust into a high-profile race—Mr. Sheehy remains the GOP’s best shot at unseating a tenacious incumbent.

The Democrat Party, Mr. Tester’s campaign, and issue advocates all think so, too.

Not only has the state party already dedicated a website to him, but also, the Montana Outdoor Values Action Fund, the political action committee of Montana Conservation Voters, has introduced a seven-figure ad claiming that Mr. Sheehy would restrict recreational access to public lands.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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