Surging Montana GOP eyes huge prize: US Senate seat in 2024

LOCKWOOD, Mont. (AP) — Republicans emboldened by a string of electoral victories in Montana this midterm election are shortly turning their consideration to a prize that has repeatedly eluded them: the U.S. Senate seat held by three-term Democrat Jon Tester that’s up for grabs in 2024.

That units up a possible bruising major battle between the 2 Republicans who received U.S. House seats Tuesday — former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Rep. Matt Rosendale.

Zinke, 61, instructed The Associated Press Thursday he considers Tester weak, and he’ll decide on whether or not to hunt the Senate seat subsequent yr. Rosendale, 62, stated Tester doesn’t characterize Montana’s pursuits and must be changed, however he declined to reply when requested if he’ll run.

Tester is anticipated to be among the many most weak Democrats within the U.S. Senate within the subsequent election cycle together with fellow moderates Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Voters in Montana and West Virginia have more and more trended Republican, whereas Arizona has turn into a key swing state focused by each events.

If Tester, 66, decides to not run for reelection, that may give Republicans an enormous benefit as a result of there are few Democrats within the state along with his excessive profile.

Following a Veterans Day ceremony at Lockwood High School close to Billings Friday, Tester stated that he plans to make a dedication on his re-election bid early subsequent yr.

“I’m going to make this decision based on my effectiveness and my family,” he stated in a quick interview. “Part of the decision on whether to run again is I’m going to be in a position where I can really influence, and that’s pretty cool.”

It stays unknown who will management the Senate subsequent yr with Georgia’s contest headed for a runoff and a race in Nevada nonetheless undecided. But the chamber is definite to be intently divided headed into the subsequent election.

Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination in Montana — whether or not Rosendale, Zinke or another person with statewide title recognition reminiscent of Gov. Greg Gianforte — Tester shall be in a troublesome state of affairs in 2024, University of Montana political analyst Christopher Muste stated.

Montana Democrats over the previous decade misplaced each different statewide partisan workplace they as soon as held aside from Tester’s, together with governor, Montana’s second U.S. Senate seat and different main posts.

“Montana Republicans will be encouraged” by their Tuesday wins, Muste stated. “Tester’s got to ask himself if he wants to take that challenge on, though in the past he’s seemed to revel taking it on.”

Tester entered the Senate in 2006 with a razor-thin victory of about 3,500 votes over three-term incumbent Republican Conrad Burns. His second election in 2012 additionally was shut, over former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Rosendale, a hard-right conservative, tried to unseat Tester in 2018 however narrowly misplaced, regardless of repeated appearances in Montana on the Republican’s behalf by former President Donald Trump. Trump bore a private grudge towards Tester after the Democrat derailed Trump’s Veterans Affairs nominee with revelations of misconduct.

Zinke and Rosendale confronted off beforehand within the 2014 GOP U.S. House major. Zinke narrowly prevailed in that five-way race and was elected twice to the House. He left quickly after his second election to affix Trump’s cupboard for lower than two years earlier than resigning amid quite a few ethics investigations.

After narrowly profitable the 2022 Republican major, Zinke used most of his marketing campaign money — greater than $6 million — to fend off a problem from Missoula legal professional Monica Tranel. Rosendale cruised to a second time period and had greater than $1 million in money remaining as of Oct. 19.

Tester has raised $4 million in marketing campaign money since his 2018 re-election and has about $2.5 million remaining.

Those quantities are dwarfed by the sums spent throughout Republicans’ previous to makes an attempt to unseat Tester.

The $47 million dumped into Montana’s 2012 Senate election set a document for marketing campaign spending within the state. The 2018 Rosendale-Tester race set a brand new document, $73 million, damaged two years later with $145 million spent in former Gov. Steve Bullock’s failed try and beat Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

Both Rosendale and Zinke have confirmed to be robust fundraisers. Gianforte is immensely rich and in 2020 loaned his gubernatorial marketing campaign greater than $7.5 million to vastly outspend his Democratic rival.

A spokesperson for Gianforte, whose first time period ends in early 2025, declined to say if he had curiosity within the Senate place. Spokesperson Brooke Stroyke stated the governor was centered on upcoming points within the 2023 Legislative session.

Zinke criticized Tester for not standing as much as his get together in the identical method as Manchin, who bought fellow Democrats to cut back proposed restrictions on the vitality trade.

“He could have slowed the progressive wave,” Zinke stated. “He chose not to.”

Tester stated he was snug supporting final yr’s infrastructure invoice and the Biden administration’s local weather change laws, and a spokesperson stated Tester helps an “all of the above” vitality technique. Tester serves as chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the place he sponsored laws signed into legislation in August that expanded federal well being care companies for thousands and thousands of service members uncovered to poisonous smoke from “burn pits” at army bases.

“The default position for most people in Montana is they vote Republican unless you give them a reason to vote for you,” he stated. “I can’t be anybody else but me.”

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