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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Sen. Tester Thanks Supporters, Promises More Work On Veterans Issues

Sen. Tester speaks to supporters in Great Falls.
Courtesy Tester Campaign
Sen. Tester speaks to supporters in Great Falls.

Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, Senator Jon Tester made this statement to a room full of supporters at a Great Falls hotel.

"For those of you that don't know — and I don't think anybody knows this — AP has just called this race," Tester told the crowd.

It was more than 15 hours after polls closed in Montana last night, a night of both Tester and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale’s supporters anxiously watching ballot tallies roll in. Tester started with an early lead, which then dwindled, and was behind Rosendale late last night. Early this morning the candidates were within less than one percent of one another as counties large and small across Montana chalked up more results.

With nearly all the votes now counted, Tester came out on top by just over two percent, beating Rosendale by 49.6 percent to 47.5 percent.

This morning, he credited his ground game for the win.

Tester thanked, "the countless volunteers, I mean, everybody in this room, and literally thousands of other people who spent incredible amounts of their free time to walk around this state and talk about how important this race was. And I want to thank you for that."

Matt Rosendale did not talk to the media today, but shortly after Tester’s press Matt Rosendale issued a statement saying, in part, “While we suffered a setback, our movement and our cause will continue to move forward. I will never stop working to make our country and state better."

Rosendale’s main campaign message was that he would work closely with President Donald Trump to advance Trump’s agenda. Trump visited Montana four times between July and last week, a record number of visits to Montana by a sitting president, to campaign for Rosendale. Vice President Pence visited three times in the election cycle.

Senator Tester became emotional at his press conference today, recalling a listening session he held in 2007 to hear from veterans, having just been appointed to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

"I had a Vietnam vet stand up and say, 'you're not gonna treat this group of veterans like we got treated.' And I took that to heart. And every day, every day for the past 12 years I've thought about that. We've done everything we can do, and we've got a lot more to do to live up to the promises we made our veterans in this country. The fight is not over yet. To the man that's retired U.S. Army in the doorway, we've got more work to do and we will do it. Because that's what's made this country great, is people working together."

The president vowed last spring that Tester would pay at the polls for sinking his first nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, White House physician Ronny Jackson. Those comments led to both Republican and Democratic groups spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the outcome of the race. Total spending in the race topped $60 million, making it the most expensive in state history.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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