Politics

Farmer and Rancher Face Off in Montana’s Key 2018 Senate Race

Big Sky Country state could play major role in upcoming midterms, with incumbent Sen. Jon Tester pitted against GOP State Auditor Matt Rosendale

Whether Montana voters award incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) another six-year term as their senator come November 6 could determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress in 2019.

The Montana race has drawn national attention because President Donald Trump has targeted Tester (pictured above left) and because Republican Matt Rosendale (pictured above right) is running hard to defeat the Democrat incumbent.

Both sides have received millions of dollars from outside groups hoping to steer the election and support from major political figures. Tester currently has a slight edge in the race for a seat he has held since 2007.

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Rosendale is Montana’s state auditor and was previously the majority leader of the Montana state Senate. Tester and Rosendale secured their parties’ nomination during the primaries June 5.

They also both highlight their deep connection to the state alongside their experiences farming and ranching. Tester grew up and worked on a farm, which has been in his family for three generations. He lost three fingers in a meat grinder accident at the age of nine.

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Rosendale has lived on his ranch for nearly two decades, though critics have argued his experience amounts to more of a hobby than an actual profession. He says he’s spent long hours working his land and helping his neighbors with branding and herding cattle, hauling crops from the field and rebuilding fences after a fire.

Republicans see the Montana race as critical to their chances of maintaining or even improving their current narrow 51-49 Senate majority because Trump carried the state handily in 2016, and Tester has often followed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in opposing the president.

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Even so, Tester is positioning himself as someone who is willing to rise above politics and work with the president for the benefit of the state. His campaign website claims the president signed into law 18 of his bills on government accountability and priorities for his state.

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Trump claimed to have dirt on Tester that could sink his re-election hopes during an April 28 rally in Michigan, though it wasn’t clear whether the president was serious or was mocking the mainstream media.

Much of Trump’s animosity likely comes from Tester’s questionable tactics in opposition to the nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Tester made claims about Jackson’s conduct that later proved to be unfounded.

“Indiana and North Dakota are places where you have Democratic senators who are public about their conversations with the president or their meetings with the president,” Inside Elections Editor Nathan Gonzales told LifeZette.

“In Montana, Sen. Tester did put out a full-page ad about a bill that was signed by the president, but his relationship is trickier with the White House,” said Gonzales, who also works as an elections analyst for Roll Call, is a political analyst at CNN, and is the founder and publisher of the website Politics in Stereo.

“I think Sen. Tester caught the ire of the president and from than some of the other senators because of the Ronny Jackson situation,” Gonzales said. “I think Republicans are hoping that the president will take a special interest in the Montana race because he took it more personally.”

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Rosendale comes into the race with a focus on veterans, illegal immigration, health care and Second Amendment rights of individuals. He blamed both parties for creating a dangerous situation by not securing the border against the flow of illegal aliens coming into the country.

Tester has made issues such as government accountability, veterans, education, infrastructure, and jobs his top priorities going into the election. He also pushed multiple bills aimed at cracking down on special interests, including a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. They both promised to protect Medicare and Social Security.

On the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, Rosendale promises to support nominees who are qualified and have a proven record of upholding the U.S. Constitution. He points to recent Justice Neil Gorsuch and nominee Brett Kavanaugh as examples of judges who uphold the law.

Tester prides himself on his commitment to government accountability and transparency. He was among the first congressmen to post his daily schedules online. He has also banned staffers who become lobbyists from lobbying him or being rehired. The Missoulian named him “Montana’s advocate for accountability.”

Tester also authored bipartisan legislation in the wake of the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal that left many veterans dead due to long wait times and insufficient care. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made it easier for the department to fire and otherwise hold accountable bad employees when Trump signed it into law.

Tester leads Rosendale in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls on the race, 50.5 percent to 45 percent. Remington Research found in a survey conducted between July 8 and 10 that Tester has 49 percent compared to 46 percent with 5 percent of voters polled undecided by that point.

Tester has a major advantage in funding, having raised $14,093,719 against Rosendale’s $1,966,002 as of June. He also spent about $8,054,927 of that amount, leaving in plenty of flexibility. Rosendale had a reported $639,163 on hand at the time, having spent most of his funds.

Both candidates have also received most of their funds through large individual contributions. The Montana race has also attracted a lot of outside spending as well. Rosendale has had $3 million spent in support of his campaign by outside groups as of August 1. Tester saw outside groups spend $5 million supporting him.

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