Montana is an idiosyncratic state that has an independent political streak. Democratic senator Jon Tester is an idiosyncratic person, but not an independent politician. Through his two terms in the Senate, Tester has been a consistent vote for his party on matters of national import, and conservative Montanans who want someone to represent them on these issues need to look elsewhere.
Tester’s name is known all over the state. He is a Montanan through and through, an organic farmer who still tends his grandfather’s homestead. He suffered an accident involving a meat grinder when he was nine and is missing three fingers on his left hand. That authenticity, and his disciplined political focus on issues such as veterans’ affairs, land use, and agriculture, have given him a certain sheen.
Though he’s running with a slight lead over his Republican opponent, Matt Rosendale, Tester’s support has softened in recent weeks. Tester has never won a majority in a Senate race, and this one, like the prior two, looks increasingly like a toss-up. The New York Times ran a column last week absurdly characterizing Rosendale as a “merciless” “bootlicker” — perhaps the surest sign yet of Tester’s vulnerability. In short, his sheen may be coming off as Montanans, galvanized by his vote against Brett Kavanaugh, rebel against the man who on most matters is a down-the-line Democrat.
The senior senator from Montana votes like he’s representing Minnesota or Oregon. Tester is clearly wary of being attacked on the gun issue, as his campaign recently told voters that he’d made a living “shooting hundreds of cows and hogs.” His legislative record on gun rights is generally acceptable, but his reliable opposition to conservative judges effectively endangers the Second Amendment. Tester voted against Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, came out against Brett Kavanaugh on a flimsy rationale, and, unlike some of his fellow red-state Democrats facing reelection, has consistently voted against conservative nominees to the federal bench.
On abortion, he makes no pretense of distinguishing himself from any other partisan Democrat. On health care, he was critical in breaking the filibuster of the Affordable Care Act in 2009. On taxes, he voted against the GOP’s reform last year.
We understand that Tester has worked with Republicans to advocate for veterans. He and Rosendale are generally in agreement on public-lands issues. It’s on the other important issues that Rosendale distinguishes himself. Jon Tester is no friend to gun rights, reasonable fiscal policy, or unborn children. The incumbent is vulnerable, and a surge in enthusiasm from conservative Montanans could unseat him. We hope it does.