As national Republicans blamed controversial GOP strategist Steve Bannon for Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama's special U.S. Senate election Tuesday, the Montana Democratic Party worked to tie Bannon to U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale.
Bannon endorsed Rosendale in October, support that Rosendale boasted about.
Steven Law is president of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super-PAC formed to expand the Republican majority in the Senate. In a statement sent out Tuesday night after Moore's defeat, he said: "This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running. Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco."
Moore was defeated by Doug Jones, a former federal U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members for a bombing that killed four black girls in the 1960s.
Rosendale’s campaign did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on Bannon’s endorsement in light of Moore’s loss. Moore's campaign was plagued by accusations of inappropriate relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
At the time of Bannon's endorsement, Rosendale’s campaign said:
“I was thrilled to have met with Steve Bannon a few weeks ago. I’m proud to have earned the support of both Steve and the Pro-Trump group Great America Alliance."
Bannon is a former chief strategist to Trump who left that position earlier this year. Since his departure, he returned as chairman of Breitbart News and declared a "season of war" against establishment Republicans, with a goal of defeating sitting members of the Republican Party in Congress by challenging them in primaries.
Republicans also tried Wednesday to blame Bannon for pushing Trump to endorse Moore. The president had previously backed Luther Strange, who was filling the Senate seat after Trump picked Jeff Session to be attorney general. Strange lost in a runoff to Moore.
Carroll College associate professor of political science Jeremy Johnson said it’s hard to say what the Bannon endorsement means for Rosendale in light of Moore’s loss.
“I don’t think that's an issue in Montana as much because it’s not an incumbent GOP candidate he’s running against,” Johnson said Wednesday.
Rosendale, the state auditor, is one of a handful of Republicans running in the primary in hopes of unseating two-term U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who won his past two races by close margins.
The race is expected to be one of the most expensive and closely watched of 2018 as Democrats attempt to take back a majority in the Senate. After Doug Jones’ victory, Republicans now hold a 51-49 majority.
Other Republican hopefuls include former Billings judge Russ Fagg, Big Sky businessman Troy Downing, state senator and doctor Albert Olszewski, James Dean of Havre and Ron Murray of Belgrade.
Johnson said endorsements have limited value and may help a candidate raise money but don’t necessarily draw voters.
Bannon’s draw is greatest among the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, which could still help Rosendale, Johnson said.
“I think Rosendale is trying to get that element of the Republican party to support him, so Bannon’s endorsement sort of fits the border narrative.”
The Montana Democratic Party rushed Wednesday to tie Rosendale to Bannon.
“Matt Rosendale is backed by a toxic supporter with no way of backing out now, beholden not to Montana’s values, but to Steve Bannon’s,” said Chris Meagher, spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party.
Johnson said it’s difficult to know if Alabama’s results Tuesday could mean anything for Montana’s 2018 Senate race.
“In some ways Montana is actually easier to run in than Alabama. The electorate in Alabama is not as flexible. The partisanship is really hard…
"Usually in Montana, while the GOP generally do better, we certainly see elections where voters are willing to split their tickets perhaps more often than usual in Alabama.”
One of the reasons Jones won, Johnson said, was his ability to mobilize black voters. There could be parallels drawn between that and Democrats working to make sure Native American turnout is high in Montana, he said, though it’s not on the same scale.
“It’s a much smaller percent of the population compared to African Americans in Alabama, but it’s still the fastest growing part of the electorate,” Johnson said. “The question is if you can get people who might not vote or vote less regularly in elections to the polls.”
Native people make up about 7 percent of the state's population. The Western Organization of Resource Councils reported in December 2016 that turnout on Montana's seven reservations went from 57 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016. Statewide voter turnout was 74 percent.
Satellite offices have been added on three reservations after a 2012 lawsuit tribes eventually settled with the Secretary of State's Office.