Saying that Montana needs a “steady hand” in its next U.S. representative, Lewis and Clark County GOP Chairman Joe Dooling on Wednesday formally announced his candidacy for Congress.
Dooling, 44, is the third Republican to announce for the 2020 primary, following state Auditor Matt Rosendale and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. The Helena Valley farmer and rancher says he is embracing his underdog status against the higher profile candidates and believes Montana primary voters are smart when deciding whom to choose at the ballot box.
“I know those guys are perennial candidates — their names have been out there and I’m just trying to offer a third choice for Montana voters, Montana Republicans, as someone who understands agriculture and rural Montana,” he said.
Both Dooling and Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, who introduced him, were critical of those who could run again for their current office but have chosen instead to run for other offices. Dooling, flanked by his wife Rep. Julie Dooling, R-Helena, said that if elected and voters continued to support him, he would work to build up seniority and not seek other offices.
“We are going to send our fifth congressman back in 15 years and this simply isn’t working for Montana,” Dooling said. “We can do better than this.
“If I get elected, I plan to serve in Congress and when I’m done being a congressman I don’t want to be a senator, I don’t want to be the governor. When I’m done, I’m coming back here to raise cattle, to raise malt barley and complain about the weather like I do today.”
Following Republican Rep. Dennis Rehberg’s 12-year stint, Sen. Steve Daines served one term in the House before his Senate bid, and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was newly elected into his second term before taking his position with the Trump administration. While U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte succeeded him in a special election and re-election, he was also midway through his second term when he announced for governor.
When Gianforte announced earlier this month he would not seek re-election and instead launched a bid for governor, it opened up a Republican primary game of musical chairs.
Stapleton, who is in his first term in that office, had already said he was running for governor earlier this year, but switched to the U.S. House race after Gianforte’s announcement.
Rosendale has already made one run for federal office since getting elected as auditor in 2016. He also joined the U.S. House race after it became an open seat. Rosendale won his party’s primary for U.S. Senate last year but lost to incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester in the general election.
On the Democrat side for 2020, former state lawmaker Kathleen Williams, who lost to Gianforte in 2018, is trying again to take back the seat that hasn’t been held by a member of her party since 1997. Missoula state Rep. Tom Winter is also running against Williams in the party’s primary.
Dooling identified several priorities Wednesday, including support for agriculture during the current trade war, changes to immigration law and border security, development of natural resources and infrastructure. If elected, he would push to open up markets for Montana coal, support new mining projects and advocate for increased grazing and management on federal lands.
Dooling grew up in the Dillon area and graduated from Beaverhead County High School before graduating from Montana State University with a degree in Agri Business and Economics. He spent more than 16 years working in management for an engineering firm and works in consulting.
Dooling has served the Montana Republican Party as chairman of the Lewis and Clark County Republican Party and was appointed by Trump to serve on the Farm Service Agency Committee.
In 2014 Dooling lost to Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, in the Senate District 42 race.