Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMidterms: The winners and losers Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority GOP to retain Senate majority MORE (D-Mont.) is the projected winner in Montana, surviving a race that tightened in the final weeks amid heavy campaigning by President TrumpDonald John TrumpMidterms: The winners and losers GOP Rep. Mike Bost wins reelection in Illinois Sisolak becomes first Dem to win Nevada governor race since 1994 MORE and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpManchin keeps Senate seat in West Virginia My father wants to end illegal immigration with this answer NBC backtracks, will no longer air controversial Trump ad MORE
Tester, a third-generation farmer from north central Montana, ran on his record and did not invite any prominent Democratic politicians to campaign for him in an effort to keep the focus on him and his opponent, Matt Rosendale, a Maryland transplant who moved to the state in 2002.
He criticized Rosendale, Montana’s auditor, as an “Easterner” funded by groups from outside the state who did not understand the issues dear to Montanans, such as the preservation of public lands.
“This is a race between myself and Matt Rosendale, make no mistake about it. Matt Rosendale doesn’t know what the hell is going on in Montana. That’s why he doesn’t talk about the issues he believes in, because he doesn’t know them,” Tester told The Hill in an interview last week.
Tester ran on his record of helping veterans as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and he regularly touted the bills he helped pass, such as the VA Mission Act, which Trump signed into law in June.
He also made an effort to distance himself from prominent Democrats in Washington and criticized colleagues for their handling of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMidterms: The winners and losers Election fallout: What to watch for now Alabama, W.Va. voters approve anti-abortion amendments MORE’s confirmation fight.
Last week he also questioned Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenElection fallout: What to watch for now Warren wins reelection, setting up 2020 White House bid Sherrod Brown wins reelection in Ohio MORE’s (D-Mass.) use of DNA test results to claim Native American heritage.
Native Americans make up between 7 percent and 9 percent of the state’s population, and Tester predicted they would make the difference in the race while campaigning on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Northern Montana last week.
Tribal leaders said they anticipated 80 percent turnout in their communities, which were expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of Tester.
The president visited Montana twice in the final weeks of the campaign in an effort to nationalize the race and warned that Tester would be a reliable vote for Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe numbers don’t lie: Working Americans are better off under GOP Trump calls Gillum ‘not equipped’ to be Florida governor McSally accuses Arizona media of ‘protecting’ Dem opponent Sinema MORE (N.Y.).
Hundreds of people lined up for hours withstanding chilly weather in Belgrade, Mont., to see Trump speak at a massive rally the Saturday before Election Day.
Trump told his supporters that Tester would be in “lockstep” with House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiMidterms: The winners and losers Ryan on midterms: ‘Tonight history has repeated itself’ Election fallout: What to watch for now MORE (Calif.), California Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters reelected to House seat in California Trump says he wants to unite the country ‘eventually’ Dems seek check on Wall Street, Trump in midterms MORE (D) and “Crying Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe numbers don’t lie: Working Americans are better off under GOP Trump calls Gillum ‘not equipped’ to be Florida governor McSally accuses Arizona media of ‘protecting’ Dem opponent Sinema MORE.”
“Remember Tester voted against your tax cuts,” he said.
Trump Jr. also toured the state the weekend before Halloween, drawing enthusiastic crowds in Butte, Helena and Kalispell.
For the Trumps, the Montana race became personal after Tester played a leading role in sinking the nomination of Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trump Jr. called Tester a “piece of garbage” at a rally in Helena because of the way he treated Jackson.
Tester raised substantially more money than Rosendale, collecting more than $19 million in his Senate fund compared, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Rosendale raised just over $5 million, according to the FEC.
Outside groups spent nearly $22 million to help Tester and just under $21 million to help Rosendale.
The race narrowed after the Senate’s divisive debate over Kavanaugh, whom Tester opposed.
While campaigning last week, however, he criticized his colleagues for mishandling allegations that the judge sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school, an allegation Kavanaugh denied.
“It was botched from the beginning. It was absolutely botched. I don’t think it helped it Ms. Ford, I don’t think it helped Kavanaugh,” Tester told The Hill.
Tester made himself available to the press and constituents during the final week of the campaign while Rosendale mostly eschewed press interviews.
As a result, Tester appeared to be running a folksy grass-roots operation while Rosendale appeared scripted and coordinated with high-profile GOP surrogates who visited from Washington.
Tester held an average lead of 3 points heading into Election Day but the question was whether Trump, who carried Montana by 20 points in 2016, would be able to energize his base enough to throw out the 12-year incumbent.
Instead, Tester was able to create enough distance between himself and party leaders to win.