Montana shelves GOP proposal to alter US Senate primary

A proposed change to next year’s Montana U.S. Senate primary that could have hurt Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s reelection chances is likely dead

Matthew Brown
Wednesday 19 April 2023 17:51 BST
Election 2024 Montana Senate
Election 2024 Montana Senate (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A proposed change to next year's Montana U.S. Senate primary that could have hurt Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's reelection chances is likely dead after a state legislative committee shelved the GOP-backed measure Wednesday.

Some Republican lawmakers urged on by a GOP lobbyist wanted to alter Montana's 2024 Senate primary so that only the top two candidates, no matter their party, would advance to the November election.

That would have effectively blocked out third-party candidates, who Republicans blamed for draining away potential GOP votes during past attempts to unseat Tester.

Control of the Senate will be in play during next year's election and Tester's seat is one of several that Democrats are defending in Republican-leaning states.

The race's national importance fueled outrage over the bid to change the primary rules. Critics including Democratic lawmakers and representatives of the Libertarian party blasted it as a blatant attempt to rig the election.

After Rep. Gregory Frazer moved to table the bill during a Wednesday meeting of the House State Administration Committee, all but one of the committee’s Republicans joined all of the Democrats to shelve it.

“I have had a lot of my folks from back home reach out to me and ask me to vote no on this — a lot more than what I thought. It's actually been pretty interesting,” said Frazer, a Republican from Deer Lodge.

Someone could make a motion on the floor of the House to revive the bill, but that's considered unlikely given Tuesday's definitive vote.

The bill's Republican sponsor said he wanted to stop the GOP and Democrats alike from trying to manipulate elections by stealthily promoting third party candidates.

Emails included in the legislative file for the bill show that longtime Republican lobbyist Chuck Denowh helped shape the measure.

In late March, the lobbyist, Chuck Denowh suggested that an early version of the proposal be changed so that it would apply only to the U.S. Senate and would sunset after the 2024 election, the emails show. The bill was changed accordingly.

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