Seat in the United States Senate in 2024

LOCKWOOD, Mont. – Republicans emboldened by a string of electoral victories in Montana in this midterm election are quickly turning their attention to a prize that has repeatedly eluded them: the U.S. Senate seat held by three-term Democrat Jon Tester which is up for grabs in 2024.

That sets up a potential deadly primary battle between the two Republicans who won U.S. House seats on Tuesday – former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Rep. Matt Rosendale.

Zinke, 61, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he views Tester as vulnerable and will decide whether or not to run for the Senate seat next year. Rosendale, 62, said Tester did not represent Montana’s interests and should be replaced, but declined to answer when asked if he would run.

Tester is expected to be among the most vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. Senate in the next election cycle along with fellow moderates Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Voters in Montana and West Virginia are increasingly Republican-leaning, while Arizona has emerged as a key swing state targeted by both parties.

If Tester, 66, decides not to run for re-election, it would give Republicans a huge advantage because there are few Democrats in the state with his high profile.

Following a Veterans Day ceremony at Lockwood High School near Billings on Friday, Tester said he plans to make a decision on his re-election bid early next year.

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

It remains unclear who will control the Senate next year with Georgia contesting a runoff and a race in Nevada still undecided. But the chamber is certain to be tightly divided as the next election approaches.

No matter who wins the GOP nomination in Montana — whether it’s Rosendale, Zinke, or someone else with statewide name recognition like Gov. Greg Gianforte — Tester will be in a tough spot. in 2024, said University of Montana political analyst Christopher Muste.

Over the past decade, Montana Democrats have lost every other partisan position they held statewide except for Tester, including governor, the second seat in the Senate. Montana American and other leadership positions.

“Montana Republicans will be encouraged” by their victories on Tuesday, Muste said. “The tester must consider whether he wants to take on this challenge, although in the past he has seemed to relish taking it on.”

Tester entered the Senate in 2006 with a slim victory of about 3,500 votes over incumbent Republican Conrad Burns. His second election in 2012 was also a close one, against former US Representative Denny Rehberg.

Rosendale, a far-right conservative, tried to unseat Tester in 2018 but narrowly lost, despite repeated appearances in Montana on behalf of the Republican by former President Donald Trump. Trump personally resented Tester after the Democrat derailed Trump’s veterans nominee with revelations of misconduct.

Zinke and Rosendale previously faced off in the 2014 US House GOP primary. Zinke narrowly won that five-way race and was elected to the House twice. He left shortly after his second election to join Trump’s cabinet for less than two years before resigning amid numerous ethics inquiries.

After narrowly winning the 2022 Republican primary, Zinke used the bulk of his campaign money — more than $6 million — to fend off a challenge from Missoula attorney Monica Tranel. Rosendale served a second term and had more than $1 million in cash remaining as of October 19.

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

These amounts are dwarfed by the sums spent during the Republicans before the attempts to unseat Tester.

The $47 million poured into Montana’s 2012 senatorial election set a record for campaign spending in the state. The 2018 Rosendale-Tester race set a new record of $73 million, broken two years later with $145 million spent in former Gov. Steve Bullock’s failed bid to beat Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

Rosendale and Zinke have proven to be strong fundraisers. Gianforte is immensely wealthy and in 2020 he loaned more than $7.5 million to his gubernatorial campaign to vastly outspend his Democratic rival.

A spokesperson for Gianforte, whose first term ends in early 2025, declined to say whether he was interested in the Senate job. Spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said the governor is focused on issues ahead in the 2023 legislative session.

Zinke criticized Tester for not standing up to his party in the same way as Manchin, who led his fellow Democrats to roll back proposed restrictions on the energy industry.

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

Tester said he was comfortable supporting last year’s infrastructure bill and the Biden administration’s climate change legislation, and a spokesperson said Tester backed a strategy energy “all of the above”. Tester serves as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, where he sponsored legislation signed into law in August that extended federal health services to millions of service members exposed to toxic smoke from “burning pits” at military bases.

“The default position for most people in Montana is that they vote Republican unless you give them a reason to vote for you,” he said. “I can’t be anyone but myself.”

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