The Senate race in Montana between incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale already appeared to be coming down to the wire — RealClearPolitics polling average placed Tester ahead by 4.2 points — but now the actions of a third-party candidate could flip that race on its head.
The political world was abuzz with reports on Wednesday that the Libertarian Party candidate in Montana had dropped out of the race and endorsed Rosendale over the Democrat. But it now appears those reports may have gone too far as the libertarian pushed back on the reports, saying he’s still in the race.
The odd sequence of events began after an anonymous, and likely illegal, campaign mailer claimed the Republican Rosendale wanted to spy on citizens with drones and further asserted that Libertarian Rick Breckenridge was the only “true conservative” in the race, an obvious ploy to siphon votes away from the Republican and toward the Libertarian.
Though it is unclear exactly who was behind the mysterious mailer, Democrat groups allied with Tester were alleged to have done something similar in 2012 with a mailer promoting the Libertarian candidate. That third-party candidate drew 6 percent of the vote in a race that Tester won by only 4 percent.
An “endorsement” from the Libertarian
Breckenridge made it clear that he had nothing to do with the mailer circulating against Rosendale — which he viewed as an underhanded attempt to unduly influence the election — and reportedly even went so far as to “endorse” the Republican candidate, which likely led to the assumption that Breckenridge was dropping out of the race.
Breckenridge told an Associated Press reporter, “The reality is I’m only going to get 3 or 4 percent of the vote, and [Rosendale] has the character to combat this issue. I’m standing in unity and solidarity with Matt to combat dark money in politics.”
Rosendale graciously accepted the “endorsement” from Breckenridge and asserted that the “dark money mailers” had originated with “allies of Tester” to undermine his own campaign efforts.
Of course, Tester’s campaign denied any involvement in the matter, and campaign spokesman Chris Meagher said in a statement, “This is yet another lie from Matt Rosendale — our campaign had nothing to do with this mailer, and Jon believes all campaign expenditures should be disclosed. We condemn this mailer and any other efforts like it.”
“Not dropping out”
But as it turns out, Breckenridge hasn’t actually dropped out of the race — though he did “endorse” Rosendale to a certain extent — as was revealed in a phone interview Wednesday with libertarian-leaning Reason.
“No, I am not dropping out,” Breckenridge told Reason, and went on to claim that his “endorsement” of Rosendale was solely with regard to the issue of “dark money” in political campaigns, as he believed Rosendale would do a better job combating the unsavory electoral tactic than Tester would.
He also pushed back against being labeled a “true conservative” as he is a Libertarian and not Republican and considers himself to be “very socially liberal” like most libertarians are.
With just a few more days to go before the election, we will soon see what sort of late impact the anonymous mailer and the Breckenridge “endorsement” will have on the tight Montana race. One thing is perfectly clear though: Republicans and right-leaning independents need to get out and vote for Rosendale. Every vote counts.