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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Republican congressional candidates face off in Kalispell debate

Graphic: 2022 Montana elections

Four of the five Republican candidates for Montana’s western U.S. House seat squared off Tuesday in a primary election debate in Kalispell.

Mitch Heuer, Matt Jette, Albert Olszewski and Mary Todd attended the debate hosted by the Flathead County Republican Central Committee. Ryan Zinke declined the invitation to the debate, according to the central committee.

The candidates are running to represent Montana in the newly created 1st Congressional District in western Montana. Over the past two decades Montanans have picked exclusively Republicans to represent them in the U.S. House. Three Democrats are running in their party’s primary for the Western District.

The Flathead GOP debate started off with former President Donald Trump’s hold on the party. Every candidate voiced some level of support for Trump. Heuer, Olszewski and Todd repeated baseless claims of fraud during the 2020 election.

“So, yes I think this election was stolen, and who in their right mind would allow a baby to be stolen and not try to get it back,” Todd said.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Todd pitched herself as someone who would vote for policies that would be tough on China and “corrupt government insiders.” Throughout the debate, Todd brought up several conspiracy theories about federal institutions and she argued that the coronavirus pandemic was planned.

Matt Jette pitched his experience as an economics and government teacher. Jette separated himself from the others on many of the topics throughout the evening. He said there was no fraud in the 2020 election, and when asked about vaccine mandates he said he wished people would wear masks and get vaccinated, saying he is an immunocompromised organ transplant recipient and cancer survivor.

"I lost friends to it. Critique me all you want," Jette said. "At the end of the day, I’m not going to throw you red meat like other candidates up here so you can clap for them.”

Jette also differed in saying that U.S. ground forces should be sent in to help fight the Russian army in Ukraine.

Albert Olszewski and Mary Todd said the U.S. should not send troops to Ukraine, while Mitch Heuer said troops should be sent only after air strikes.

Olszewski spent much of his time touting his experience as a state legislator. He also made a point to align himself with the House Freedom Caucus, saying he would support Montana’s current lone voice in the U.S. House, Rep. Matt Rosendale, who is seeking re-election in the state’s eastern congressional district.

“I’m telling you today that I am that candidate that is a D.C. outsider, that has legislative experience, that can hit the ground running and will double down on Matt Rosendale votes,” Olszewski said.

Olszewki has made multiple runs for higher office and has lost his party’s primary in recent U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

Mitch Heuer cast himself as a problem solver with ideas to take on issues facing the country. His bio at the debate said he was a “fix-it kind of guy all his adult life.”

He said Congress needs to incentivize U.S. manufacturing in order to address historic inflation.

“And we go back to our education system and we make our young people to where they can be makers and we become exporters and not importers.”

Candidates agreed on a number of things, including voting for Ohio Republican Jim Jordan of the House Freedom Caucus to serve as House Majority leader if Republicans take back control of the House in November.

Every candidate except Jette said they would support whomever won the GOP primary for the Western Congressional District. Jette said he would not vote for Ryan Zinke.

All four candidates also took several opportunities to note the absence of Zinke.

According to the latest federal campaign fundraising reports, Zinke has raised as much money as the rest of the Western District field, Republican and Democrat, combined.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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