Tester is counting on convincing GOP voters that he is different from Biden

Montana voters will nominate their Republican and Democratic candidates for the Senate next week. The election campaign is hotly contested, escalating quickly and could decide the majority in the upper house.

Senator Jon Tester's (D-MT) strategy to secure a fourth consecutive term this November relies on distancing himself from President Joe Biden, who hopes to win over enough Republicans in a state where former President Donald Trump dominated by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.

“[The race] is as tight as a tick on a hunting dog,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Given his political situation, which is pretty hairy, it's best for him to emphasize his local roots.”

Tester is a sure-fire candidate in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Big Sky Country. He faces an opponent, Democrat Michael Hummert, who has not filed campaign finance reports and apparently has no operating budget.

Republican and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy is the clear favorite in the Republican primary against former Montana Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson and former congressional candidate Charles Walking Child. The withdrawal of Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) from the race in February after only six days in the race cleared the way for Sheehy.

To retain the majority, Democrats cannot afford to lose Montana or any of the other six contested Senate races.

Tester is facing increased criticism from Republicans at the national level for allegedly “taking credit for opposing Biden's policies that he supported,” including measures on energy, the pandemic and illegal immigration. In 65 pages in two separate memos released by the Washington ExaminerThe National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Republican senators, has provided detailed point-by-point rebuttals.

“In reality, Jon Tester’s record shows a strong love for Biden and an equally strong disdain for President Trump,” one of the NRSC memos said.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) leaves the Senate chamber in the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Tester campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Tester has a two-page policy memo that, according to a spokesman for his office, is evidence that the Democrat “has a long track record of consistently and repeatedly standing up to President Biden and his administration.”

“False claims by Senator Tester's opponents that he is opposing his party only because it is an 'election year' couldn't be further from the truth,” the Tester memo said. “Just look at his consistent record of opposing anyone – including President Biden – when it is right for Montana.”

Tester has sought to draw a contrast with Biden, particularly on border security, as Democrats seek to reverse the influx of illegal border crossings that Biden administration policies have contributed to. In a recent campaign ad, Tester boasted that he “worked with Republicans and fought to close the border… and he fought to stop President Biden from letting migrants stay in America.”

Tester is the only Democrat to co-sponsor the Laken Riley Act, a Republican-backed anti-illegal immigration bill named after a 22-year-old Georgia nursing student who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant who had previously been released by New York police for a nonviolent crime. He voted against it in March as an amendment to a government funding bill. Changes to the funding measure passed by the House would have triggered a shutdown.

Sheehy put the “Flip-Flop Flattop” on Tester, a reference to the senator’s haircut.

Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist whose clients have included former President Bill Clinton and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, called Tester's two-tiered approach to border security politically astute.

“The problem for Tester is Biden,” Sheinkopf said. “He's a target for Republicans. If they can beat him, that would be a big deal for Republicans. They'll have some strength.”

Independent election forecasters consider the general election race between Tester and Sheehy to be neck and neck, with recent polls showing the two virtually tied and results within the margin of error.


The campaign is expected to be one of the most expensive in the country. Federal campaign finance records show that Tester has raised more than $37 million, while Sheehy has raised only about $10.5 million.

According to advertising tracking company AdImpact Politics, ad reservations for the election campaign at the end of April were over $58 million for the Democrats and $63 million for the Republicans.

Anna Harden

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