U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte filed paperwork Thursday to run for governor in 2020, confirming long-circulated rumors that the congressman would again seek the seat he campaigned for in 2016.
“After many conversations and encouragement from Montanans across the state, Greg has filed paperwork to launch a campaign for governor,” a spokesperson for the campaign said late Thursday.
Gianforte was elected to the U.S. House first in a special election in May 2017 and then again in the 2018 midterms, defeating Democrat Kathleen Williams, a former state legislator who is running for the seat again in 2020.
Gianforte's first bid for governor was in 2016, when he lost to incumbent Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock by 19,818 votes, or about 46 percent to Bullock's 50. Bullock is termed out from running again and is running in the Democratic presidential primary.
Three other well-known Republicans are also running for the seat: Attorney General Tim Fox, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton and state Sen. Al Olszewski, who lost in the four-way primary for the U.S. Senate seat in 2018.
Republicans Peter Ziehli of Kalispell, and Gary Perry of Manhattan, have also filed paperwork to run.
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Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, a Democrat, is expected to run. No Democrats have officially announced.
Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies, a Bozeman software company, two decades ago. He sold it to Oracle in 2012 for $1.8 billion. His Gianforte Family Foundation is a significant backer of conservative efforts in Montana.
Gianforte is expected to make an official announcement in conjunction with the Montana Republican Party convention in Helena at the end of next week.
With Gianforte running for governor, it leaves the U.S. House seat open. Earlier this month, the former chair and vice chair of the Montana Republican Party and two central committee chairs signed a letter to the editor saying Gianforte's bid for "governor has us deeply concerned."
The letter says "The possibility of an open congressional seat is already enticing a mass of current Republican statewide officeholders to leave their current offices. Offices we just took back from the Democrats. If Gianforte chooses not to run as the incumbent for Congress, the subsequent 'Republican shuffle' creates a strong likelihood that Democrats will regain power in our state."
The letter, which points to Fox as the preferred candidate for governor, is signed by Liane Johnson, former chair and vice chair of the Montana Republican Party, as well as Ted Kronebusch, chair of the Pondera County Republican Central Committee; and Chris Hindoien, chair of the Teton County Republican Central Committee.