Elections: who’s running for office in 2024?
Here are the state, federal candidates vying for Montanans’ 2024 votes
MONTANA — Montana’s 2024 ballot will host a suite of consequential elections — among them a race that could decide the balance of the U.S. Senate, two open seats on the Montana Supreme Court, two U.S. House races, the governorship, and a bevy of other statewide offices. And, for good measure, there may be some major ballot measures thrown in too. With less than a year to election day, campaign announcements are coming fast and furious from seasoned politicians and grassroots activists alike.
It’s enough to bewilder a political junkie, much less a more casual observer. So Montana Free Press combed through our notes, email inboxes and press clippings in an effort to round up the candidates who are publicly considering running for state or federal office in 2024.
For the time being we’re not getting into state legislative races here — though there will likely be interesting matchups under the newly drawn state House and Senate maps — or ballot initiatives, none of which have yet qualified for the ballot. With only one candidate for three open seats on the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulation board, as of Nov. 22, we’re also holding off on including those races for the time being. Additionally, no candidate has yet declared a candidacy for state auditor.
Candidates have from Jan. 11 through March 11, 2024 to file for office with the Montana Secretary of State. The primary election is June 4, 2024, and the general election is Nov. 5.
We plan to update this guide periodically as the fields in various races fill up between now and that March filing deadline. If you’re aware of something we should add here, don’t hesitate to reach out to MTFP political reporter Arren Kimbel-Sannit at email@example.com.
Elections that will determine Montana’s representatives in the U.S. Congress. Campaign finance reports for these races are filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
One of Montana’s two seats in the upper chamber of the national Congress in Washington, D.C. U.S. Senators are elected to six-year terms. The state’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Steve Daines, is out of cycle and next up for re-election in 2026.
Jon Tester, a Democrat from Big Sandy, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. At the time, Montana had a Democratic governor, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and state auditor.
Tester won that race and subsequent elections in 2012 and 2018 by slim margins. But while he’s served in the U.S. Senate, Democratic control of other statewide offices has slipped away, leaving him Montana’s only statewide-elected Democrat. Those circumstances and the fact that Democrats hold a narrow two-seat majority in the U.S. Senate mean Tester will be a top target for Republicans. This is certainly the highest-profile race in the state in the 2023-2024 election cycle.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, farmer from Big Sandy and onetime president of the Montana Senate, has long been a known quantity in the state. But he’s also served in Washington, D.C. for almost 18 years, and could face stiff political headwinds this cycle. “I know that people in Washington don’t understand what a hard day’s work looks like or the challenges working families are facing in Montana,” Tester said in a statement announcing his reelection campaign in February. “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable.”
Tim Sheehy is, at this relatively early stage, the perceived frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the Senate race. A former Navy SEAL originally from Minnesota, he is the CEO of Bridger Aerospace, a Belgrade-based aerial firefighting company. His wealth and military background make him an attractive candidate for national Republicans and he has been endorsed by Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Gov. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke. But, by many of those same virtues, he’s a target of criticism from some in the Montana GOP. “I think Americans are feeling underrepresented,” he told Fox News Digital shortly after launching his campaign. “They’re tired of a government that they don’t feel is working for them.”
Former Public Service Commission member and Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson entered the Republican field in October. In a November interview with MTFP, he said he feels he has a better chance of beating Tester than anyone else in the race.
Sid Daoud, a Kalispell city council member and the chair of the Montana Libertarian Party, announced his intention to run for the seat in November. “I think the other two big parties in Montana are going to be surprised about how well put together and how professional this campaign is going to be,” Daoud told the Flathead Beacon. “We’ve been reduced to the role of spoilers and some people call us like ‘Republican-lite. We’re a different and we’re a unique political party. We have our own platform.”
Matt Rosendale, a Republican, currently represents Montana’s eastern U.S. House of Representatives district. A prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, he’s an outspoken hard-right critic of his own party and was an important figure in the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. National media reporting has suggested that Rosendale is preparing to mount a campaign for the U.S. Senate. Publicly, Rosendale’s camp has only said he’s not yet made a decision, but he’s nevertheless taken shots at both Tester and Sheehy on social media, branding them as both part of the Washington, D.C. establishment. Rosendale challenged Tester in 2018 and lost.
One of Montana’s two districts in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first district generally includes Montana’s western third and many of its major cities: Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell, Butte and Hamilton. U.S. Representatives are elected to two-year terms.
The race for Montana’s First Congressional District in 2024 will likely see familiar names on the ballot. That year, Republican Ryan Zinke, a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Donald Trump, defeated Democratic attorney Monica Tranel by about three percentage points. As Zinke seeks re-election, Tranel is making another go at the seat.
Republican Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL from Whitefish, has twice been a congressman, served as a cabinet secretary under Trump, and did a stint in the state Senate from 2009 to 2013. Once seen as a relatively moderate state lawmaker, he’s since publicly embraced Trump, serving as the president’s interior secretary until 2018, when he resigned under the weight of numerous ethics probes. Zinke has said little about his campaign publicly, but has been in the headlines promoting several pieces of legislation ranging from a proposal to require a minimum fill level in Flathead Lake to a measure to deport Palestinian passport holders from the United States.
Monica Tranel, a Democrat, is an attorney and former Olympic rower who has long been involved in Montana’s public affairs. A former attorney for the Public Service Commission and Montana Office of Consumer Counsel, she’s developed a reputation for representing ratepayers in legal battles with Northwestern Energy, Montana’s main regulated utility. She fashions herself as a populist crusader who stands up to corporate interests in the courtroom — while still making overtures to the purple center.
Cory Moran, of Great Falls, filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC for the race as a Republican. (Great Falls is in the eastern House district, but the race is open to candidates who live elsewhere in Montana.) FEC records show that, as of August, he was missing information on his registration paperwork and he has filed no spending reports or other documents since.
Montana’s second district in the U.S. House of Representatives. It stretches from Helena to the North and South Dakota borders. U.S. Representatives are elected to two-year terms.
Just about everything in the 2024 race for Montana’s second district, which spans the eastern two-thirds of the state, hinges on the future plans of the district’s incumbent, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale. A bevy of Republicans have said they will run for the seat if Rosendale runs for Senate, but few have filed formal paperwork while awaiting his decision. There are also some Democrats in the race, but they’ll likely face a steep climb in a district that leans heavily Republican.
Elsie Arntzen, a Republican, is the incumbent superintendent of public instruction but cannot run again because of term limits. Arntzen, who filed a statement of candidacy for the U.S. House in August, was first elected state superintendent in 2016 following a long career in the Legislature. “Our schools need to focus on education and not indoctrination. As the Superintendent of Public Instruction, I fought to keep parents in the driver’s seat and keep our focus on academics instead of agendas. I am proud to have a proven track record of partnering with parents,” Arntzen tweeted from her campaign account in November. Arntzen has also said she will not run if Rosendale decides he wants to stay in the House.
Troy Downing, Montana’s current state auditor — a position once held by Rosendale — announced his candidacy in November, telling MTFP that he’s confident Rosendale will run for Senate and doesn’t plan on mounting a primary challenge if that’s not the case. His primary issue is reducing government spending, he told MTFP.
Joel Krautter, an attorney and former Republican state lawmaker from Sidney who has since moved to Billings, has also said he will run for the seat if Rosendale makes a go at the upper chamber. During his brief, one-term legislative tenure from 2019–2020, Krautter was a prominent bipartisan, voting to renew Medicaid expansion in the 2019 session. He then lost a contested primary to a Republican hardliner, Brandon Ler, in 2020. Krautter told MTFP of his run for Congress: “I believe that we need a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C.”
Ric Holden, a Republican, is a farmer and former state legislator from outside Glendive. Holden described himself as a longtime friend of fellow Dawson County resident Rosendale, who moved to Montana from Maryland in the early 2000s and purchased a ranch in the area. “If he decides he’s going to stay in the House, I’m going to withdraw,” Holden told MTFP. “But he clearly plans on switching.” Holden last served in the state Senate during the 2002 special session. He said he wants to run for Congress to represent Monantana’s agricultural interests in Washington, D.C.
Ed Walker, a Republican former state Senator from Billings, also filed a statement of candidacy for Montana’s eastern House district in October. “I don’t know what Congressman Rosendale’s intentions are, but I think if we’re going to secure the borders, if we’re going to stop all the spending that’s going on, we need a conservative candidate that’s going to start building a campaign today,” Walker told the Billings Gazette. “Otherwise, we’re going to get some vanity candidate who’s from California come in and drop a million dollars in March and win a race.” Walker served in the state Senate in 2011 and 2013.
Stacy Zinn, of Billings, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official, said in November she would run for Rosendale’s seat if he goes to the Senate. In a press release announcing her campaign, she primarily emphasized her desire for tighter border security and her experience fighting drug trafficking.
Kevin Hamm, a Democrat from Helena, is a community organizer, LGBTQ activist and a former candidate for Public Service Commission. He’s perhaps best known locally for running Montana’s statewide Pride celebration. “I got 18 months to get in front of these people. We’ve got three-quarters of the counties in the state of Montana in my district. We have half the people and three-quarters of the land. So, we’ve got a lot to do,” Hamm told the Billings Gazette in May.
Ming Cabrera, a Democrat from Billings, is a retired pharmaceutical rep who announced his candidacy for the eastern district in September. He told the Billings Gazette his pharmaceutical experience would help him advocate for lower prescription drug costs.
Incumbent Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale may well decide to run for re-election. If he does, he’d be likely to win the primary — almost all of the Republican contenders have said they will drop out if Rosendale seeks re-election. For now, most observers expect him to run for Senate. But there’s no guarantee.
Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci previously told MTFP he’d be interested in running for the seat if Rosendale ran for Senate. But Pinocci has since been charged with a felony related to an alleged dispute he had with a tenant in Great Falls and he has not filed any paperwork with the FEC.
Elections that determine who fills state-level elected roles. Campaign finance reports for these races are filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.
Montana’s chief executive, the governor appoints the heads of most agencies, signs legislation into law and acts as state government’s most visible elected official. Governors are elected to four-year terms.
Incumbent Gov. Greg Gianforteis a moderately popular Republican (57% approval, according to a recent Morning Consult poll) in a state that supported Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election by almost 17 points. Republicans swept every state office in 2020, won a legislative supermajority in 2022, and will look to hold ground — including the governorship — in 2024.
Gianforte hasn’t yet announced a re-election bid, but hasn’t also given any indication he plans to seek another office or willingly leave the governor’s office after a single term. He served in Congress from 2017 to 2021, when he was sworn in as governor following a resounding victory over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. In office, he has helped enact restrictions on abortion and LGBTQ rights and expression, expand charter schools, cut income taxes and advance other right-wing priorities.
Ryan Busse, a Democrat who lives in Kalispell, came to national prominence following the 2021 publication of his memoir, Gunfight, which chronicles his career in and eventual disillusionment with the firearms industry. He announced a challenge to Gianforte in September, faulting the governor for failing to steward the state’s quality of life. “Unfortunately the Montana that I love, and that my kids have been raised in, is being threatened right now. It pisses me off that Greg Gianforte just wants to sell this state to his rich buddies and turn it into a playground so only they can afford to live and play here,” he said in a campaign launch video. Busse’s sons, Badge and Lander, were among the plaintiffs in Montana’s landmark youth climate lawsuit. Busse, originally from Kansas, was an executive at firearm manufacturer Kimber America until 2020.
Tanner Smith, a first-term Republican member of the state House from Lakeside, announced a primary campaign against Gianforte in June. He said he blames the governor for allowing recreational marijuana to proliferate in Montana, which he feels is responsible for an increase in crime. “Our state is decaying around us,” he told MTFP at the time.
Shawn White Wolf, who has run for a number of different positions in the Helena area in recent years, has also filed paperwork to run for governor as a Democrat. His campaign website says he’s running on reforming child protective services, improving funding for courts and public defenders and expanding access to healthcare.
Montana’s attorney general is the state’s top law enforcement officer and prosecutor. The head of the state Department of Justice, the AG represents Montana in court and leads the Montana Highway Patrol. The AG is elected to four-year terms.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican elected to a first term in 2020, has struck an aggressive posture as the state’s chief attorney, challenging the Biden Administration in court, defending dozens of legal challenges to laws passed by Montana’s Republican supermajority, and publicly impugning the integrity of the Montana Supreme Court, which has repeatedly ruled against him in cases challenging GOP-supported laws.
In a departure from his predecessor, the comparatively middle-of-the-road Republican Tim Fox, Knudsen doesn’t appear to have qualms about being labeled a staunch partisan. “Montanans had the chance to vote for ‘status quo’ a couple different times in the AG’s race. They didn’t do it. Overwhelmingly, I got voted for. I’m an aggressive guy. I think people knew what they were voting for with me,” he told MTFP in 2021. Knudsen faces a Democratic challenger who is positioning himself as a defender of Montana’s legal institutional order.
Austin Knudsen had already been Roosevelt County Attorney and speaker of the Montana House of Representatives when he handily won the attorney general’s race in 2020. In November, he said he wants to keep his seat, He announced his re-election bid in November. “President Biden has been a disaster for Montana,” Knudsen said in the statement. “He has abdicated his duty to secure the border, allowing drugs to pour into our country, making the fight against crime in Montana more difficult. His administration and its allied anti-gun activists attack the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.” His candidacy has been endorsed by the Montana Republican Party, meaning he’s unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.
Ben Alke, a Democratic attorney who works at a private firm in Bozeman, launched his campaign for attorney general in October, explicitly criticizing Knudsen’s tenure. “The office of attorney general is a serious job. You’re the chief legal officer of the state of Montana. You’re the chief law enforcement officer,” Alke said at a campaign launch event. “The criteria that you think about when you’re making decisions has nothing to do with politics. It is not about your political party. It’s about seeking the truth.”
MONTANA SUPREME COURT
There will be two open seats on Montana’s highest court this cycle as Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Dirk Sandefur retire. The Montana Supreme Court takes all appeals from lower state courts and administers the state’s legal system. Justices are elected to eight-year terms.
While it’s the high-profile civil litigation before the Supreme Court that gets the most press — debates about abortion access, guns on campus, the very nature of Montana’s constitutional order — Supreme Court justices in Montana are required to take every appeal they get. That means that justices also oversee cases related to divorce, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, utility rates and estate law among other issues.
Jerry Lynch, a former federal magistrate court judge, first filed to replace Mike McGrath as chief justice of the Supreme Court back in June. Lynch lauded McGrath for a “brilliant career in public service” in an October op-ed with the Helena Indpendent Record, and said a “historic election” awaits in 2024. “If the past is prologue — and no doubt it will be — Montana voters should expect to be pummeled with negative advertising in support of extremist candidates who act like politicians, not judges,” Lynch wrote. “These candidates likely carry personal agendas or are motivated by the influence of dark-money lobbyists and corporations.”
Katherine Bidegaray is a district court judge representing Montana’s 7th judicial district, which includes Dawson, McCone, Prairie, Richland and Wibaux Counties. She filed to run for Sandefur’s seat on the Montana Supreme Court in June. Bidegaray was first elected to the bench in 2002. “I feel lucky to live in a state that has adopted protections in its constitution for very important rights,” she told KTVH in July. “I think that I have demonstrated in my 21 years as a district court judge that I will look at issues fairly and impartially, that I have done my work for all Montanans.”
Dan Wilson, a district court judge from Flathead County, also filed for Sandefur’s seat in June. “The Supreme Court may only declare a legislative enactment to be unconstitutional if it is shown to be beyond a reasonable doubt that the legislation is in conflict with the constitution itself. That, I can tell you, is a very tall order,” Wilson told a room of Republicans at the Glacier Country Pachyderm Club’s weekly meeting, per the Flathead Beacon. He also spoke at a dinner for Flathead County Democrats, the Beacon reported and emphasized his commitment to non-partisanship at both meetings.
MONTANA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
The state’s top education official.
Elsie Arntzen, an outspoken conservative and two-term superintendent of public instruction, is not able to run for re-election due to term limits. Several state officials with experience in the public education world will compete for the open seat this cycle, including two of Arntzen’s former deputies, who will square off in a Republican primary next June. The winner of the general election will take charge of the Office of Public Instruction, an agency tasked with overseeing Montana’s entire K-12 public education system, picking up the threads of numerous initiatives, modernization projects and controversies that have punctuated Arntzen’s tenure in office.
Former Deputy Superintendent Sharyl Allen, Arntzen’s longest-tenured right-hand through two terms, filed to run for her boss’s position in June. Allen, running as a Republican, has served as a superintendent in a string of districts in Arizona and Montana, including in the small Rocky Mountain Front communities of Augusta and Conrad. So far, she’s focused her campaign on issues including student safety and respect for family values in education.
Susie Hedalen, another Republican, is also a former deputy superintendent to Arntzen and current vice chair of Montana’s Board of Public Education. Hedalen is the superintendent of the Townsend School District, and has attracted endorsements from Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Austin Knudsen.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula, launched her campaign this fall on the premise that the race for superintendent will be a “big fight” for the rights of children, for government accountability and for “simple fairness.” O’Brien, who sat on the Legislature’s Senate-side education committee last session, has spearheaded a number of successful changes to education policy in the past and hasn’t shied away from criticizing Arntzen’s time at OPI.
Kevin Leatherbarrow, a Libertarian from Great Falls who runs a private tutoring center, is again running for superintendent after a failed bid in 2020. “I am announcing my run for Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2024. My platforms are school choice, school safety, closing the achievement gaps, teacher shortage, fixing the broken special education services and fiscal responsibility,” he wrote on Facebook in November.
MONTANA SECRETARY OF STATE
Montana’s top election official, the secretary of state also oversees business registration and maintains many other state records.
Republican Christi Jacobsen first stepped into the role of Secretary of State in 2020, having previously served as deputy to her predecessor, Corey Stapleton. She is now seeking a second term.
Incumbent Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen announced her intent earlier this month to run for a second term, boasting of her efforts to reduce the size of her office and reasserting her commitment to “uphold the conservative values that make Montana great.” Her candidacy has been endorsed by the Montana Republican Party, meaning she’s unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.
Democrat Jesse Mullen declared his candidacy this fall, anticipating that Jacobsen would pursue reelection. Mullen is the founder of the Mullen Newspaper Company, which currently owns 21 newspapers across the Rocky Mountain West. He has criticized Jacobsen extensively, for example accusing her in a November Reddit discussion of displaying “total incompetence” in the rollout of Montana’s new statewide election software.
MTFP staff will update this guide periodically through the early stages of the 2024 election cycle. If you’re a candidate for one of these offices, please send campaign announcements and news to firstname.lastname@example.org and MTFP political reporter Arren Kimbel-Sannit, who’s reachable at email@example.com.