HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is trying to woo the voters who gave President Donald Trump a lopsided election victory in Montana by touting his ability to pass bills the president will sign despite acrimonious partisanship in Washington.
The Montana Democrat’s campaign released its first television ad Monday that said Trump has signed 13 bills either sponsored or co-sponsored by Tester. More than half of the bills deal with veterans’ affairs, while others range on topics from government oversight to naming a mountain in the Madison Range.
Tester is defending his seat this fall in a state that Trump won in 2016 by 20 percentage points. He’ll need to appeal to Trump voters to win a third term in a race viewed as one of the more vulnerable Senate seats held by a Democrat.
“He’s gotten more bills signed into law by President Trump than he has fingers,” campaign manager Christie Roberts said. Tester is missing three fingers on his left hand a childhood accident with a meat grinder.
Republicans seeking to unseat Tester quickly rebutted that he is no friend of the president. The National Republican Senate Campaign referenced an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com that said Tester has voted against Trump’s position on bills 64 percent of the time.
“I think people are going to be able to see through that,” said Jake Eaton, a senior adviser for the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. “He’s been a pretty vocal critic of Trump.”
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, said passing legislation in a hyper-partisan environment is a big deal. The issues that the legislation deal with have broad-based appeal and shouldn’t alienate the Democratic base against Tester for trying to align himself with the president, Parker said.
“A number of progressives have always grumbled about Tester,” Parker said. “He’s a centrist Democrat. That’s who he is and how he wins races.”
Four Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination to challenge Tester in November. They include state Republican Sen. Al Olszewski, of Kalispell, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matt Rosendale, former District Judge Russ Fagg, and businessman Troy Downing.
A Libertarian candidate and a Green Party candidate also entered the race on Monday, the last day to file as a candidate with the Montana Secretary of State.
The Senate election tops a slate of Montana elections this fall that also include U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte defending his seat after last year’s special election victory and Republicans trying to hold their legislative majority.
Democratic leaders said they hope to harness a surge of activism since Trump’s election to take control of the House and Senate.
“That activism and that need to feel involved and the desire to do something, to change things, will be reflected in Democratic votes,” said Democratic state Rep. Moffie Funk, of Helena.
Eaton said he was skeptical that Democrats could spin activism into votes.
“I’ve been doing Montana legislative races for about a decade now, and every year the Democrats say they have this enthusiasm and will take back the Legislature. It never happens,” Eaton said.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story omitted Republican state Sen. Al Olszewski from the list of candidates challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
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