Can the GOP Gain Seats in States that Trump Won? Preliminary Analysis of Jon Tester By Luke Perry and Garrett Russitano
This series examines 10 Democratic Senators who are up for election in states Donald Trump won. Thus far, we’ve analyzed Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI), Bill Nelson (FL) Claire McCaskill (MO), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (OH). This piece examines Jon Tester of Montana, a state that Donald Trump won by over 20 percent.
Jon Tester entered politics in 1998, after being elected to the Montana State Senate, and was elevated to the U.S. Senate in 2006, where he is about to complete his second term.
Tester, a third-generation farmer and butcher, is an outspoken advocate for rural Americans. Rural access to healthcare is a particular focus. Tester lost three fingers in a meat grinder while working as a child at his family farm.
Senator Tester has voted in line with President Trump approximately 40 percent of the time. Tester supported some of Trump’s nominees, such as Ben Carson and Steven Mnuchin, but not others, including Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo.
Senator Tester supported the ACA and opposed all attempts to rescind it. Tester expressed interest in single-payer healthcare, a growing priority for Democrats, as “something we should take a solid look at.” Such views constitute a liberal complement to Tester’s more centrist overall approach to legislation.
Senator Tester is one of five Democratic Senators who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, a bill designed to protect the children of undocumented immigrants. Tester released a statement after President Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in six months time that called for a lasting solution to the issue.
Tester faces a diverse field of GOP opponents in 2018. David Parker, Associate Professor of Political Science at Montana State University, believes that Matt Rosendale (pictured below) is probably the strongest challenger at this point. Rosendale won statewide office to become the state auditor, has widespread GOP support, demonstrated fundraising capacity, and has served in the legislature, including leadership.
“In some respects,” Dr. Parker explains, Rosendale's path to the U.S. Senate “is looking suspiciously like the incumbent’s.” The main weakness is the perception of opportunism after running for the House in 2014, auditor in 2016, and now the Senate.
Senator Tester has amassed a substantial campaign fund thus far, with $2 million raised and $4.7 million banked. A July poll found that Tester has a 50 percent approval rating, 39 percent disapproval.
Montana backed a Democratic presidential candidate just twice since 1952. President Trump has a 56 percent approval rating in Montana, 41 percent disapproval, which is consistent with his vote share statewide in 2016. Montanans split ticket voted in 2016, electing a Democratic Governor and GOP House Representative.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
Garrett Russitano is a research assistant for The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research.