Navy SEAL Competes with Tea Party Candidate Who 'Shot Down Drone' in Montana GOP Congressional Primary
Former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke, the money-raising front runner in June's Republican Congressional primary to become Montana's sole representative in the House of Representatives, says he is better able to provide leadership than the four other candidates who are seeking his party's nod to compete in this November's general election.
But Tea Party-backed state Senator Matt Rosendale has his own view of leadership, one he expressed last week in an ad in where he shoots down a drone.
As Breitbart News reported, Rosendale shoots down the drone in the ad and says "The federal government is too big and too powerful. More taxes and regulations put Montana families out of work. Spying on our citizens? That's just wrong." If elected, Rosendale vows to "stand tall for freedom" and to "get Washington out of our lives."
Rosendale's ad has been viewed more than 285,000 times since it was published on YouTube on April 14.
Given Montana's conservative track record and the relative weakness of the Democratic field, the victor in the Republican primary will most likely become Montana's next congressman.
Zinke faces a crowded field, which includes fellow Navy veteran Corey Stapleton, a graduate of the Naval Academy, retired schoolteacher Ellsie Arntzen, and real estate investor Drew Turiano, in addition to Rosendale.
Long-time Montana Tea Party activist Eric Olsen told Breitbart News "Elsie Arntzen and Matt Rosendale, both of whom are running for the Montana House seat, share similar conservative voting records and both profess support for Constitutional limited and fiscally responsible government."
Zinke told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview earlier this month that an internal poll taken by his campaign in March shows he leads the other candidates competing in the Republican primary.
Zinke, who grew up in Montana, attended the University of Oregon on a football scholarship, where he started at center on a team led by head coach Rich Brooks. A four year letterman, Zinke was named All-PAC Ten and played on offensive line beside future Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman.
Brooks, who later became head coach for the NFL's St. Louis Rams then returned to college to become Kentucky's head coach, and Zinke remain close. "I am seeing Rich Brooks today," Zinke told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview earlier in April. "I am going down to Palm Springs for a fundraiser, and he will be attending."
After graduation Zinke joined the Navy, where he became a SEAL, and served for 23 years. When he retired in 2008, he returned home to Montana, where he ran for and won a seat in the Montana State Senate.
"I'm disabled," Zinke told Breitbart News. "It's like prize fighter disabled, more from the SEALs than with football. When they did my exit physical [from the military], they told me this is what we see in your spine knees and shoulders. I don't want to say I have trouble getting around. I still run, but I'm not as fast."
Zinke said he thought he was running now at about a 9 minutes per mile pace. While not bad for the population at large, it's significantly below the performance of Navy SEALs at top condition.
Zinke said his campaign focuses on three issues, economic growth, energy independence, and truth.
"Growth," Zinke said, "is getting the government out of business so the economy can grow. The Ryan budget was a good framework. The scale of cuts you would need to solve an 18 trillion debt is just not possible," he added.
"Every industry," Zinke said, "is in an excessive regulatory environment that's preventing [it] from doing business. That's a problem across the board," he said.
With regards to Obamacare, he said "I think we abandon it. Whether repeal or abandonment is chosen, one size doesn't fit all." He added that "1 out of 10 pitches [in Obamacare] make sense, probably the pre-existing element."
When pressed by Breitbart News, Zinke said if an Obamacare Repeal Act of 2015 were to be introduced, he would vote for it.
"We get attacked by the left as being a radical Tea Party right wing candidate," Zinke told Breitbart News, "and we get attacked by the extreme right in Montana for not being conservative enough."
"I don’t fit well into a box," Zinke said. He did, however, speak of his admiration for former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. "The last time the Republican Party had vision was when Newt Gingrich was Speaker," he said.
Though Tea Party groups in Montana have not rallied to his candidacy, Zinke said "the Tea Party is for more freedom and less government. I think we would all be Tea Party. I try to reach out to everybody."
By the financial numbers, Zinke looks to be in the lead, with over $423,000 in cash on hand on March 31, according to Federal Election Commission records. Tea Party-backed Rosendale had half that amount, $221,000 in cash on hand on March 31 according to the FEC.
But unlike Zinke, who has raised more than $900,000 since he began his campaign, Rosendale has raised only $141,000 in the nine months since he announced. The vast majority of his campaign resources come from a $500,000 loan he made to his own campaign. In contrast, Zinke has not loaned any money to his campaign.
Only one of the other five candidates, Corey Stapleton, has raised enough money to mount a serious effort. FEC records show that he raised a respectable $373,000 in the first quarter of 2014, but has spent as much as he has taken in. His cash on hand on March 31 was only $55,000.
Ms. Arntzen raised less than $71,000 in the first quarter of 2014, and had $51,000 cash on hand on March 31, according to FEC records. Without the $63,000 she loaned her own campaign, it would have been out of cash.
Fundraising has been the source of one of the controversies in the campaign. Zinke founded a political action committee, SOFA PAC, (Special Operations for America) which endorsed him a few months after left the organization in October.
"I am proud to have started that PAC because it was for the sole purpose for electing Romney as president. We developed 15,000 donors. I spent six months dedicated to electing Governor Romney president. We focused on veterans in industry, Benghazi, and those issues that were important to veterans."
After Zinke resigned as chairman, the group endorsed his candidacy.
"I'm glad they're supporting me. They're also supporting Tom Cotton [in his Arkansas Senate race]," Zinke said.
"A Soros-based group already has filed a formal complaint with the FEC, a month ago," he added. "We looked at it, but it is frivolous. I am 100 percent confident we are squeaky clean ."
The June Republican primary is unlikely to turn on the SOFA PAC issue. The real question is whether Republican primary voters will prefer a largely self-financed candidate who consistently backs the core values of the Tea Party movement over a retired Navy SEAL who aspires to offer Republicans the same kind of vision Newt Gingrich promoted in 1994.