Montana attorney general Austin Knudsen launched his reelection bid Tuesday, with the Republican vowing to be the "last line of defense" against the "disastrous Biden agenda that has harmed Montanans."
Knudsen—a former state lawmaker who cruised to a 17-point win during his first statewide race in 2020—enters the campaign with support from a number of Montana sheriffs and prosecutors, as well as the Montana Coal Council and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, according to a campaign release. Knudsen during his first term as Montana's top cop sued the Biden administration over its gun control and immigration policies, fights that the Republican expects to replicate should he secure a second term.
"Every day there's some new rule or some crazy idea coming out of Washington, D.C., that's just completely out of whack with Montana," Knudsen told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview. "It seems like I can't go a week without having to file a lawsuit against some federal agency for violating the Second Amendment, and that's a really important issue to Montanans. We're the last line of defense in a lot of these things that are coming out of the federal government."
Knudsen's announcement comes as Montana Republicans brace for what is expected to be an expensive Senate race in 2024. Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), a top GOP target who is up for reelection next year alongside Knudsen, has already attracted a challenge from Republican businessman Tim Sheehy, and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R., Mont.) is also expected to enter the race. Knudsen said he expects the Senate contest to influence his own campaign as Democrats flood the state with spending "to protect liberal John Tester."
"That's a consideration we definitely have to take seriously," Knudsen said.
In addition to his lawsuits challenging the Biden administration on guns and immigration, Knudsen has also led fights against the Chinese Communist Party, having emerged as the top proponent of a bill banning Chinese-owned app TikTok in Montana. Knudsen has also pressed the Biden administration to implement regulations aimed at combating the use of Chinese slave labor.
Still, Knudsen told the Free Beacon that Montanans are clear about the two issues they are most concerned with: crimes and drugs. Knudsen in both 2021 and 2022 sued the Biden administration over deportation suspensions and immigration policies that the Republican called "dangerous," and he expects to prioritize the southern border should he win in 2024.
"We're dealing with a huge fentanyl problem, a huge methamphetamine problem … and that's leading to violent crime rates going up in Montana," Knudsen said. "And all of that we know and we've shown is positively tied to the southern border. So that's what we've been zeroed in on, that's what's on Montanans' minds, and that's where we're going to focus."
Knudsen so far has just one Democratic challenger: Ben Alke, a commercial litigation attorney who launched his own campaign by saying Knudsen "does not understand how to do his job." Knudsen said he's taking the challenge "really seriously," given that Alke as a trial attorney can raise "a lot of money." Knudsen nonetheless expressed confidence in his ability to portray Alke as out of touch with everyday Montanans.
"He certainly is a trial lawyer darling in Montana—he's represented a lot of far-left liberal interests," Knudsen told the Free Beacon. "And he's trying to run to the right, he's trying to present himself as a moderate. You know, it's hard to look at that and think he's not just trying to mimic me—but if he thinks he's gonna get to the right of me, he's going to have a hard time with that."