This fall’s race for the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Jon Tester has held for two terms could very well come down to guys like Jim Henningfield.
He’s 66 years old, retired after 20 years of working on aircraft in the Navy, including a combat tour, and he’s unhappy with the trends he’s seeing in politics.
"I’m just mad at the way things are going in this country," Henningfield said.
Henningfield works at the Missoula airport where I bumped into him last Wednesday when Senator Tester dropped in on a meeting about airport expansion plans. Tester invited the media, and talked about how he helped secure federal funding for the expansion in last year’s omnibus spending bill.
"It was a good bill that we needed to pass, and I voted for it and I was the only member of the delegation that did," Tester said.
After Tester stepped away from the TV cameras, Jim Henningfield approached him and asked him a couple of questions about the Veterans Administration. After their brief, friendly exchange I asked Henningfield about his politics, like whether he’d ever voted for President Obama.
"Hell no," he said.
Henningfield voted for President Trump. He likes to listen to Mark Levin on Fox News Radio, and says he’s disgusted by the things he hears from some Democrats in Congress like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Maxine Waters.
"There’s some ghosts in her closet I’d like to be able unravel," Henningfield said. "I did hear something about a bailout of a bank or something, I don’t know if it’s true or not, I don’t care right now, but her actions say who she really is. You know, Chuck Schumer, ‘we’re gonna get him 7 ways from Sunday,’ it means you don’t belong there anymore. You’re not helping America, you’re not helping the people of the United States. Go away."
In a state that President Trump won by 20 points, it would be easy to conclude that guys like Jim Henningfield are a slam dunk to vote for Republican Senate Candidate Matt Rosendale. Not so fast.
"No, because I voted for Governor Bullock," Henningfield said. "I voted for our last governor, Schweitzer. I thought it was a good thing, and it seemed to work out."
And, he’s voted for Tester before. So, has he decided he’s going to vote to re-elect Tester?
"Nope, not yet," he said. "I’m a fence sitter, I won’t know until I make that mark in the ballot."
I asked Henningfield what he knows about Tester’s Republican challenger, Matt Rosendale.
"Gotta research it more," he said. "You can’t go by what you hear on the radio and the television and other stuff, because it’s all slanted anyway. I Google searched Matt Rosendale’s name, came up with a few things, but go back to all the other stuff they’re saying. I gotta find out where to go."
Rosendale has emphasized that if elected, he’ll strongly back President Trump and work to forward his agenda. Henningfield says that argument won’t sway his vote. I asked him if he’s happy with the job President Trump has done since he got elected.
Yes, I am, I just wish he’d tone it down a little bit," he said. "I think he’d get more done, quicker."
"Tell me a little bit- what do you mean by ‘tone it down?'" I asked.
"He’s not a politician, and I accept that, but when you’re in a position you need to kind of think first, think about what you’re going to say, but he’s just not that way," he said.
Henningfield said the thing that’s most impressed him about Trump is that he got North Korea to return the remains of 50 Americans killed in the Korean War, and that North Korea isn’t testing long range missiles anymore.
"Trump put a stop to it," Henningfield said. "You’re gonna mess around with this country, this country’s gonna do something. There’s no crossing a line, a red line, we’re gonna do it."
Like a lot of Montana voters, Jim Henningfield has a lot of pride in America, and veterans issues are important to him. He gets choked up when he tells me Vietnam vets never got a parade when they came home. He says he’s worried about socialism creeping into the Democratic party, and that he’s tired of hearing politicians from both parties spouting opinions and expecting people to get in line behind them. What will it take to win his vote?
"Put your nonsense aside and take care of the country," he said.