HELENA — In what’s likely their final debate before ballots are mailed out, U.S. House candidates Matt Rosendale and Kathleen Williams faced off Saturday night, with Williams, a Democrat, casting herself as an independent who can work with both sides of the political aisle and Rosendale, a Republican, calling her someone allied with the “radical far leftists.”
“Montanans have a clear choice in who is going to represent us in the next Congress,” said Rosendale, the current state auditor and insurance commissioner. “My opponent is going to work for (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and the radical, far-leftists who fund her campaign.”
Williams, a former state lawmaker from Bozeman, said voters are tired of the “hyper-partisanship” of Congress and that she’d be someone who can work with both parties to tone down the rhetoric and get things done.
“People are frustrated with Washington, because every issue turns into a partisan political fight,” she said. “Congress is broken. My opponent is more of the same.”
Williams and Rosendale are locked in what’s expected to be a close contest for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which is open this year because incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte is running for governor.
Williams lost to Gianforte by five percentage points in 2018. A Democrat hasn’t held the seat since 1996.
Rosendale and Williams squared off in their second debate in four days – and likely their last. The Montana Television Network sponsored and produced the hour-long debate, which was broadcast on all nine MTN stations across the state Saturday night.
Ballots will be mailed to most registered Montana voters in less than two weeks, on Oct. 9.
Rosendale and Williams tangled over health care, guns, taxes, the “green new deal” and other topics – and, over how they’d work with the next president, whoever that may be.
When asked if he could name an issue on which he disagreed with President Trump, and would advocate for on Montana’s behalf, Rosendale said that’s not the point.
“It’s not where we disagree,” he said. “It’s having someone who has a relationship with the president that’s going to advance the policies that are in the best interests of our state. … I’ve got the president’s ear, he’s got my back, and that’s what people are looking for.”
Trump came to Montana four times in 2018 to campaign for Rosendale, when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Jon Tester – a race Rosendale ultimately lost.
Rosendale has a picture of himself and the president on his campaign website.
When asked if she’d be supporting Democrat Joe Biden for president, and why, Williams declined to say who she’d be voting for this year for president.
“I look forward to working with the president, but ensuring that Montana has an independent voice and a strong legislator that can help rebuild Congress … and work with the Senate and the president, no matter who he is,” she said.
On health care, Williams said she supports letting people aged 55-64 buy into Medicare, for more affordable coverage, and allowing the federal government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical industry on drug prices.
Rosendale accused her of supporting a “Bernie Sanders-style, government-run health care system that is going to treat you like a number instead of an individual.”
He said he supports repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurance price discrimination against people with pre-existing health conditions, but said he would still keep those protections. He also said he’s worked within the ACA to lower premiums, such as his work on a reinsurance bill last year.
He also pointed to Williams’ F rating from the National Rifle Association and said she will “strip away your guns and undermine your 2nd Amendment rights.”
Williams said she owns several guns herself and isn’t for taking away anyone’s guns – but that she does favor closing loopholes in background checks on gun purchases.
She also said that Rosendale wants “no restrictions on guns,” and won’t even support making it harder for people on the terrorist watch list to acquire firearms.
On taxes, Rosendale highlighted his support of the 2017 federal tax cut passed by Republicans, said he wants to make it permanent, and said Williams had consistently voted against any tax cut while she was a state legislator.
“I personally believe that the people across this state can spend their money better than Ms. Williams can,” he said. “It really is that simple.”
Williams criticized the 2017 tax cut as skewed to benefit the wealthy, but didn’t clarify how or if she would vote to change it.
She also said that many of the tax cuts she opposed at the Legislature were not coordinated attempts to craft good policy, but rather a litany of Republican proposals that weren’t justified.
“It was just a lot of unwise, not-well-thought-out policies that were really going to benefit the wealthy,” she said.