HELENA — Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Friday became the fourth Republican to pay the filing fee to run in Montana’s new western congressional district – and is considered by many to be the front-runner for the nomination and perhaps the seat itself.
Zinke, who also was Montana’s sole congressman from 2015 to early 2017, when he resigned to become Interior secretary under then-President Trump, said he’s running to give Montana another conservative voice in Washington, D.C.
“As Montanans, we have a chance to have influence in D.C. to correct the course of this nation,” he told MTN News shortly after he filed. “Montana has a chance to have two voices in a sea of 200 – we need 218 (to take the majority in the House) – and that leadership is important.
“So I’m senior enough; I’ll go back, should I be elected, go to Appropriations where we can fix the budget, finally bring down inflation and put a vision of where this country should be.”
If a Republican wins the open District 1, he or she could be joining Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale to form Montana’s two-person congressional delegation. Rosendale is running for re-election in the strongly Republican-leaning District 2, which covers central and eastern Montana.
Rosendale is currently congressman for all of Montana, but the 2020 Census led to adding a new district in Montana for 2022.
While Zinke already has raised well over $1 million for the race, he does have competition for the GOP nomination: Former state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell, Kalispell businesswoman Mary Todd, and Allen McKibben of Columbia Falls.
Three Democrats also are running for the seat: Bozeman health-policy expert Cora Neumann, Missoula attorney Monica Tranel and former state Rep. Tom Winter, also of Missoula.
The district covers all or parts of 16 western Montana counties and the cities of Bozeman, Butte, Kalispell and Missoula. Most political analyses have shown that the district leans slightly Republican, but it’s still considered a swing seat, meaning either party has a legitimate shot at winning.
Zinke often notes that he’s been endorsed by Trump, Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte and Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.
He also says that he wants to help bridge the division in the country – but usually sticks to GOP talking points on how Democratic policies are damaging the country.
“Most Montanans realize that the country we love is under siege, and that it’s going to take a lot of leadership to bring this country back and protect our way of life,” he said Friday. “Outdoors, freedom – that reigns supreme in Montana.”