Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, is a character who has undergone tests of character since the crewcut dirt farmer from Choteau County was elected to the Senate in 2006. He’s up for reelection next year, the last Democrat to hold statewide office in an increasingly red state.
Donald Trump carried the Big Sky State by a 17-point margin in 2020. Yet Tester has won three terms, despite being the object of Trump’s wrath in 2018. Tester had uncovered unflattering information that sank the nomination of White House physician and Trump sycophant Ronny Jackson to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Trump made four campaign trips to campaign against Tester. Donald Jr., took to the road for Republican challenger (now Rep.) Matt Rosendale. The campaign generated a memorable meme. A West Billings High School student, Tyler Linfesty (aka “the plaid shirt guy”), found himself standing behind Trump at a rally. Linfesty began looking amused and rolling his eyes skyward at the lies. Trump handlers had him escorted from the rally.
Along with two other Democrats from red states, Sens. Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Tester faces the toughest turf in 2024. Brown is seeking reelection. Manchin hasn’t announced plans.
Democrats and aligned independents have a bare 51-seat senate majority. Seatmate Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Daines has tried to depict Tester as a Biden clone. In defense, Tester is running as an independent, down-home guy. “Montana needs a fighter holding Washington accountable and I’m fighting to defend our Montana values,” he said on announcing.
Tester has racked up victories. As chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, he wrote legislation opening benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. He backed Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary, a nomination bitterly opposed by Daines. On the other hand, Tester had also supported the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and opposed a Biden Administration rule allowing retirement funds to incorporate climate and social justice into investment decisions.
As a young man, Tester lost three fingers to a meat grinder. “People are going to come after me,” he joked recently. “They’ve come after me in the past, but that’s politics.”
Rosendale is considering a rematch. Another possible contender, Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was Trump’s scandal-tarred Interior Secretary. Gov. Greg Gianforte is another possibility. “This is a Senate seat we can’t afford to lose and it will be hard to win,” Seattle lawyer Eric Redman, who with wife Heather stumped for Tester in 2018, told friends in touting the 3/20 event.
If Tester loses, it will solidify MAGA Republicans’ hold on Montana. Former two-term GOP Gov. Marc Racicot has taken to criticizing GOP excesses and endorsed Zinke’s House opponent in 2020. In response, the Republicans’ executive committee just read Racicot, the former Republican National Committee chair, out of the party.
“[Racicot] has been less than forthright in publicly failing to note that he cannot and does not speak in any official capacity for Montana Republicans; and that it is recognized that he took action to damage and defeat the efforts of MTGOP and the Republican Party in general and therefore disqualifies himself by these actions from being considered a Republican.”
They’re a mean outfit. Jon Tester is facing another meat grinder.