Jon Tester proved Tuesday that a Democrat can survive in Montana by keeping the focus on local issues, withstanding a threat to his Senate seat mounted by Matt Rosendale, the Republican state auditor.
With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Tester was up by a little more than 4,000 votes, according to the Associated Press.
A two-term incumbent in a state that backed President Trump by 20 percentage points, Tester, 62, aimed to distance himself from the divisive national debate.
But the president took a particular interest in the race, making four visits to stump for Rosendale and to lacerate the Democrat whom he blames for sinking the nomination of Ronny L. Jackson, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. As the top Democrat on that committee, Tester in April released detailed statements from Jackson’s former colleagues alleging misbehavior.
“I can never forget what Jon Tester did,” Trump said last month.
Rosendale, 58, capitalized on the president’s outsize attention to his race, hitching his star to Trump’s personal popularity. He calls himself a “Trump Conservative.”
Though Tester is a lifelong resident of Montana, and a farmer, Rosendale painted the centrist Democrat as antagonistic to the state’s values, including lower taxes and a more conservative judiciary. Tester opposed the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Tester aimed to make the race about issues specific to Montana, such as public lands. He also attacked his opponent as “Maryland Matt,” a reference to Rosendale’s prior work as a real estate developer in Maryland. He moved to Montana in 2002 and claims, dubiously, to be a rancher.
Both sides saw the contest as crucial to their fortunes in the Senate, reflected in the roughly $60 million pumped into the race.