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Former GOP representative mulling comeback bid in Montana

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A familiar name might be returning to the ballot in Montana — after an nearly 12-year absence from politics.

Former Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, 68, is considering a comeback bid for Congress. He is eyeing the district that Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) is preparing to vacate for a Senate run.

Rehberg, first elected in 2000, served in what was then the state’s lone congressional district until 2012, when he unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. Since then he has worked as a lobbyist and opened fast food franchises in Montana. He said he had no plans to return to politics until he heard last week that allies of his were testing his name in a poll for Rosendale’s seat.

“I got kind of emotional about it on Friday night, and started thinking and started getting phone calls and people saying, ‘You know, we really think that maybe you have a lot to offer us,’” Rehberg told POLITICO. “I haven’t made the decision. But maybe I could do this and go back and make a difference.”

The poll results were encouraging, he said. Rehberg has until March 11 to file for the district. But he would be entering a crowded field. State Auditor Troy Downing, state Senate President Pro Tem Ken Bogner, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and former state Sen. Ric Holden are among the others already in the race.

Rehberg is a fifth-generation rancher from Billings who raised cattle and cashmere goats. He has run for Senate twice, first against Tester in 2012 and then-Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in 1996.

He would have little to fear from a Democratic opponent in a 2024 House race. The 2nd District in the eastern part of the state is safely Republican. A person familiar with Rosendale’s plans said a Senate launch is expected this weekend.

Rehberg said he had no set timeline for deciding whether to jump in the race. Concerns over inflation and immigration are driving his interest — and he said he was undeterred by the chaos in the GOP-led House.

“I’ve been surrounded by a lot of controversy over the years. It wasn’t easy being in the fast food business during Covid,” he said when asked why he wanted to return to Congress. “I just want to be helpful in any way I possibly can.”