February 23, 2023
“I am running for reelection so I can keep fighting for Montanans and demand that Washington stand up for our veterans and lower costs,” Tester said in a statement. “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable and I’m running to defend our Montana values.”
The 66-year-old Tester, who is running for a fourth term, will be a top GOP target this cycle. Senate Democrats are also still waiting on whether Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), another of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents, will run again.
But Tester’s decision, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) bid for a fourth term, gives Democrats a pathway to keep their majority. The party currently holds 51 seats, meaning it can only afford a net loss of one seat in 2024, provided Democrats maintain control of the White House. And with sparse pick-up opportunities next year, the most straightforward path is returning the party’s incumbents to office—meaning Democrats must win reelection in at least two of the three red states: Ohio, West Virginia, and Montana.
Tester has won races under myriad scenarios since entering national politics. He defeated former GOP Senator Conrad Burns in 2006, successfully split tickets with former President Barack Obama in 2012. and survived a difficult midterm cycle in 2018 by defeating now-Representative Matt Rosendale (R-Montana).
During that race, Tester raised the ire of former President Donald Trump by helping sink his pick for the Veterans’ Affairs Department, now-Representative (and then-presidential physician) Ronny Jackson (R-Texas).
Both Rosendale and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) are weighing a bid against Tester; Zinke passed on the 2018 race by joining Trump’s cabinet as secretary of the Interior. Republicans also are keeping their eyes on Governor Greg Gianforte and state Attorney General Austin Knudsen to mount potential GOP campaigns to unseat Tester.
Tester has a more liberal voting record than Manchin but a more centrist one than Brown. He did not serve as a public roadblock to President Joe Biden’s agenda like Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona); although he does occasionally vote against the party leadership, like on a bid to raise the minimum wage to $15. More recently, he criticized the Biden administration over its handling of a Chinese government spy balloon that flew over Montana.
Tester also has a unique personal profile: He’s a working farmer who lost three fingers in a meat grinder as a child and is known in Washington and Montana for blunt talk and the occasional expletive. His political skills will be put to the test, though, as Montana grew significantly during the pandemic— meaning he will face thousands of new voters next November.
While Tester has yet to announce his campaign team, his 2018 campaign manager Christie Roberts is expected to stay on for another consecutive cycle at the Democratic Senate campaign arm in a senior role.
Research contact: @politico