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2024 Primary election breakdown: Montana's second Congressional district

Presidential election 2024 in United States of America
gguy44/Getty Images
Presidential election 2024 in United States of America

Primary election night is June 4 and one of the most decisive races to watch will be for Montana’s second Congressional district–known as the Eastern House seat. 12 candidates are trying to win the seat and the primary race will determine which Republican and Democrat will square off in November.

By land, it’s one of the largest House districts in the contiguous United States and in Montana’s 2024 primary election this Congressional district representing Billings, Great Falls, Helena, the Hi Line, five American Indian reservations, and all of Eastern Montana has the most candidates trying for a single seat on the ballot.

Eight Republicans and four Democrats are trying to fill the seat held by out-going two-term Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale.

Rosendale handily won re-election to the seat in 2022 but planned to challenge Democratic Senator Jon Tester, who is up for re-election this year. Rosendale announced his Senate bid on February 9 and by this time other Montana Republicans had already soft-launched their campaigns to fill his Congressional seat.

Rosendale dropped out of the Senate race a week later, then announced a campaign to run for re-election to his House seat, setting up a 10-way Republican primary. Within two weeks, he dropped out of the race, saying he would not be running for re-election to his House seat.

“I’m tired, my tank is empty, I’m out of gas, it’s time for me to come home," Rep. Rosendale said in an interview with Yellowstone Public Radio in March.

This left a crowded primary field and candidates trying to distinguish themselves. YPR asked candidates to fill out a more-detailed Q&A and links to those articles are included alongside candidate interviews.

Democrats have fewer candidates in this primary race, there are four of them, but they face a tougher contest over all as every single county in the 2022 House election in this district was ultimately won by the Republican candidate.

How these Democrats would plan to upset their Republican challenger and swing the district blue was a question posed to the candidates in a primary debate hosted by the Montana Farmers Union in Great Falls in early May.

Debate moderator, Mike Dennison, asked candidates, "What realistic chance would you have to win?"

These are the candidates, and how they responded to that question, in alphabetical order as they appear on the ballot.

“The reason I’m in this race is I have two grandkids and I’ve got a family. I’ve got to look forward to what we can do in the future for all of us and from that conviction, I not only bring what I have in my knowledge, all the way from my college career, to my business career, to what I’ve done, to what you can see right in front of you, which is my heart," said Ming Cabrera, a retired businessman from Billings. Q&A: Ming Cabrera, Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 02

“I was first elected to the state legislature when I got home from the Army in the Bitterroot Valley and I don’t think Eastern Montana is more conservative than the Bitterroot. I’ve found that if you tell people what you really think and have a reason for it, respectfully, that they’ll vote for you, enough," said John Driscoll, an Army veteran and former Montana legislator from Helena. Q&A: John Driscoll, Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 02

“We need somebody who is really going to step up and is committed to this position not only for this race but for the next 20 years and I’m that candidate. So at the end of the day, while everybody is good people who is up on this stage, we need to look to the future and we need to understand that the way the House works, it’s going to require some time served in there before we can anything done, because there is no magic wand in politics, but there is a chance for someone being noticed and being heard to make a difference and that’s me," said Kevin Hamm, a business owner in Helena. Q&A: Kevin Hamm, Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 02

“To your question, I’m a fourth-generation Montana rancher. Agriculture doesn’t have a party, Mike, we all understand the same thing. I’ve sat in rooms full of people who say they voted Republican their entire lives and they’re going to vote for me," said Steve Held, a rancher and actor from Broadus. Q&A: Steve Held, Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 02

Running a four-person primary is challenging enough for candidates trying to distinguish themselves, but it is seemingly more difficult for the eight Republicans running for the same House seat.

So what is bringing so many candidates to the field? Here’s a little bit about each Republican candidate as their names appear on the ballot in alphabetical order and their motivation for running, as told to YPR in interviews.

Elsie Arntzen is a former teacher and the outgoing superintendent of public instruction based in Helena. Arntzen's campaign did not respond to interview requests from Yellowstone Public Radio. Q&A: Elsie Arntzen, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Kyle Austin, grew up on a farm in Havre and is a pharmacist in Billings. “Owning a pharmacy here in Billings, I see a lot of problems with healthcare, lot of problems with insurance companies, and feel like it’s necessary for someone like me to go to Washington D.C. and educate other lawmakers," Austin said. Q&A: Kyle Austin, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Ken Bogner, is a current state Senator and Marine Corps veteran from Miles City: “I have friends I served with who didn’t come home, so for us to watch the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan was really unacceptable and we saw the same national security failure starting to happen at the southern border, and as a Marine, I couldn’t stand by and watch another national security failure," Bogner said. Q&A: Ken Bogner, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Troy Downing is an Air Force veteran, businessman and outgoing state auditor based in Helena. Downing's campaign did not respond to interview requests from Yellowstone Public Radio. Q&A: Troy Downing, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Ric Holden is a rancher and former state senator from Dawson County Montana. “I was sitting in my kitchen, watching TV in the morning, and you see all of those illegal immigrants just running across the border, trying to get into the United States illegally, and it just started to gnaw at me, I have to say," Holden said. Q&A: Ric Holden, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Joel Krautter is a lawyer and former Montana House representative in Billings. “There’s a lot of discouragement out there, a lot of people are frustrated with the dysfunction in Washington right now and I think we need a new generation of leadership in Washington, I’m 36 years old and I’m really focused on running against the chaos in Washington, that’s preventing us from getting anything done for our state or for our country," Krautter said. Q&A: Joel Krautter, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

Denny Rehberg is a six-term US Congressman and business owner in Billings. “We don’t recognize our country anymore. You start with the border, it was a problem during the Trump administration, but now it’s a crisis," Rehberg said. Rehberg did not fill out a Q&A for Yellowstone Public Radio.

Stacy Zinn is a retired resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration based in Billings. “You look at the chaos that we have in our world today, and I cannot sit back and complain about it, if I’m not willing to put my name in the hat or raise my hand," Zinn said. Q&A: Stacy Zinn, Republican candidate for U.S. House District 02

There will be nine names on the Republican primary ballot, but Billings businessman Ed Walker suspended his campaign in early April, saying he is not seeking the seat or actively campaigning.