BILLINGS — U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke suggested in an interview with The Associated Press that he could run against Democrat Jon Tester in Montana’s 2018 U.S. Senate race if the two-term incumbent does not work effectively with Republicans.
The Whitefish Republican stopped short in the weekend interview of declaring his candidacy, but made it clear he has decided Tester must show a willingness to work with President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress.
“Senator Tester is wise enough to make sure his voice is heard in a positive manner to get things done. Just saying no is not going to work,” Zinke told The AP.
Asked directly if he would run against Tester, considered a centrist Democrat, Zinke suggested he would if Tester tries to obstruct proposals for tighter border security and changes in federal forestry management.
“I haven’t decided. But I’m putting pressure on (Tester) to make sure he runs more in the middle,” Zinke said.
A Tester spokeswoman disputed the assertion that the Democrat must shift his policies to accommodate Republicans. Spokeswoman Marnee Banks said Tester has demonstrated he can reach across the aisle to protect access to public lands and take care of veterans.
“Jon has a strong record of working with Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” Banks said.
Like Zinke, Tester has pushed for changes to federal forestry management but has been unable to advance legislation. He’s criticized Zinke’s forestry proposal as a “top-down” approach that doesn’t adequately take Montana’s needs into account.
Zinke on Nov. 8 overwhelmingly won a second term as Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House, defeating state schools superintendent Denise Juneau.
Anticipating a potential challenge, Tester said immediately after the election that he will seek a third six-year term. Prior to his narrow 2006 victory over incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, the farmer from Big Sandy worked on a local school board and was president of the Montana Senate.
A Zinke-Tester race would be among the most competitive Senate matchups in the nation, Montana State University political analyst Dave Parker said. Tester would hold an initial advantage as the incumbent and because mid-term elections typically favor the party that’s not in power, he said
Zinke made his comments about Tester as he prepared to release a book on Tuesday about his 23-year career as a U.S. Navy SEAL.
He co-wrote “American Commander” with Scott McEwen, the author of “American Sniper.”
Zinke’s book includes anecdotes from his childhood in Montana, including a fascination with demolition that began around the second grade.
“I was making Molotov cocktails long before I knew the name for them,” Zinke wrote, referring to crude explosive devices he fashioned with jars bottles filled with flammable liquids.
Zinke said he started working on the book in 2013, prior to his first run for office, after a series of conversations with McEwen about America’s role in the world. Hundreds of pages of the book were redacted by the U.S. Department of Defense because of concerns releasing that information could jeopardize U.S. security. Zinke said his overall message was unchanged.
“When you finish it, the reader should feel positive about the direction of the country, positive about its opportunity and be grateful to those magnificent men and women who keep us safe at night,” Zinke said.