Tester Survives Trump’s Onslaught For Another Close Win In Montana

LIVINGSTON, MT - NOVEMBER 02: Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester who his defending his senate seat from Republican Matt Rosendale campaigns with Democrat Kathleen Williams who is running against Republican Greg Gianforte for Montana's lone house seat on November 2, 2018 in Livingston, Montana. (Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images)
WILLIAM CAMPBELL/Corbis News

Just call Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) senator landslide.

Tester appears to have ground out a third win in a row with less than 50 percent of the vote, leading Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) 49 percent to 48 percent with 91 percent of precincts reporting.

The Associated Press called the race Wednesday at 1 p.m. after the ballot counting dragged on for hours with Tester and Rosendale neck-and-neck. The Democratic senator held onto his seat in a red state even as Republicans unseated several of his Democratic colleagues Tuesday night.

Tester’s victory came in spite of President Trump’s intense on defeating the senator in a state Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016. Tester’s victory was driven by his strong crossover appeal and Rosendale’s own deep flaws as a candidate.

He ran hard on his image, filming most of his spots from his Montana farm and highlighting his bipartisan work on veterans’ issues while drilling Rosendale for supporting Obamacare repeal, an issue suddenly popular with red-state Democrats this year. In one memorable closing ad, Tester talked about how his family health insurance had been useless when he lost fingers in a childhood accident with a meat grinder to argue why “junk insurance” plans couldn’t be allowed back on the market.

Rosendale, while sporting a similar flat-top haircut, couldn’t match him in authenticity. While he’s lived in the state for nearly two decades, Rosendale still speaks with a heavy Maryland accent — a problem when many in the state still look dimly on new residents. Even more problematic: Rosendale built his wealth as a land developer, not a popular profession in a state where access to lands is a top bipartisan issue. And Rosendale’s early claims to be a rancher proved to be largely bull.

Tester’s decision to go hard after Ronny Jackson, Trump’s nominee to head the the Department of Veterans Affairs, made an enemy of the president. Trump spent at least as much time and energy trying to take out Tester as any other Democrat in the country after swearing he would have a “big price to pay” for blocking Jackson in the Veterans Affairs Committee. Donald Trump Jr., a frequent Montana visitor, was a guest of Rosendale’s on the campaign trail several times as well.

Tester didn’t split with his party as often as other red-state Democrats, voting against both of Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

But Tester’s folksy charm and bipartisan appeal was just enough to get him across the finish line in a state where voters don’t like outsiders telling them what to do, giving Democrats an important win in a red state and a rare bright spot in the 2018 Senate map.

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