BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said Wednesday he will seek reelection to a fourth term in 2024, a boost to Democrats’ hopes of maintaining a seat in the Republican-leaning state as they try to hang on to their narrow Senate majority.
Tester, 66, said he was seeking reelection to continue standing up for veterans and to “lower costs,” which his campaign said referred to rising expenses for housing, health care, child care and other needs.
“I know that people in Washington don’t understand what a hard day’s work looks like or the challenges working families are facing in Montana,” the Democrat said Wednesday in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable.”
As a third-generation farmer and former music teacher, Tester has leaned on a folksy speaking style and populist-themed messages to overcome his Republican opponents in each of the last three elections. He narrowly prevailed each time by drawing independents and centrist Republicans while distancing himself from party leaders in Washington.
The state’s political landscape has shifted sharply since Tester was first elected in 2006, and he has been the sole Democrat holding statewide office for the past two years.
The race could draw a fierce GOP primary contest between U.S. Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale. Zinke, who served as interior secretary in the Trump administration, said he will consider a Senate campaign, while Rosendale has declined to say if he will run.
Rosendale, a hard-right conservative, tried and failed to unseat Tester in 2018, with then-President Donald Trump making repeated appearances in Montana on the Republican’s behalf. Trump won Montana by 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election and 16 percentage points in the 2020 election, but Tester defeated Rosendale by 3.5 percentage points.
In his past elections, Tester stressed a handful of issues — agriculture, health care, reproductive choice and support for veterans. He avoided direct confrontations with national Republican figures such as Trump, who bore a grudge against Tester for derailing his Veterans Affairs nominee, then-White House doctor Ronny Jackson, with revelations of misconduct.
In 2018, Tester was the only Democratic senator from a Republican-leaning state to win his reelection bid after voting against Trump’s Supreme Court picks.
Tester, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored legislation that expanded health care services for millions of service members exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits at military bases.
He’s advocated for campaign finance reform but has sometimes ranked as the top congressional recipient of campaign donations from lobbyists, including in 2012 and 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His campaign has raised more than $4 million in cash since his 2018 reelection and had almost $3 million remaining as of Jan. 1, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Before running for the Senate, Tester, who still works on his family farm, taught music at an elementary school in the small town of Big Sandy in central Montana and was later elected to the town’s school board. He served in the state Senate from 1999 to 2007, spending the last two years as the chamber’s president.