Tester speaks in Helena

U.S. Senator Jon Tester speaks to party leaders at the Montana Democrats state convention in Helena on Friday afternoon.

MATT NEUMAN matthew.neuman@helenair.com

Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester implored fellow Democrats to not take anything for granted in the 2018 election, in which he’s expected to face a fierce battle to retain his seat.

“Last election cycle, we were supposed to win a majority in the Senate. We were supposed to win a lot of seats in the House and Hillary Clinton was supposed to win the presidency. None of that happened,” Tester told a gathering of statewide Democratic Party members who met in Helena on Friday and Saturday to pick new party officers and set party rules.

On top of the unexpected victory of Republican President Donald Trump, Montana Democrats took a beating last November, going from holding all but one statewide office to retaining only the governorship.

“We should not be taking anything for granted," Tester said. "I can tell you I am not taking anything for granted. We have a tough election cycle ahead of us no matter who comes out of that primary.”

A handful of Republicans have already said they want their party’s nomination for the 2018 U.S. Senate race. The most prominent to announce is state auditor Matt Rosendale, who previously served in the Legislature and lost a bid for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House in 2014.

Ron Murray of Belgrade, state Sen. Albert Olszewski of Kalispell, Scott Roy McLean of Missoula and Troy Downing of Big Sky have also announced their candidacy. Judge Russ Fagg of Billings has said he will retire in October and has formed an exploratory committee, but has not officially announced he will run.

Tester referenced the massive amount of money that is expected to be spent on the race, with a majority of it from out-of-state sources. He told Democrats a strong ground game was just as critical to helping him hold on to his seat. Tester is no stranger to close races, having been first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 by just 2,847 votes.

Saying there was the potential for $100 million to be spent in the fall race, Tester didn’t focus on asking Democrats for money, instead emphasizing a grassroots effort.

“There are little groups of folks that we never thought there were any Democrats in and all of the sudden 20 people are showing up,” he said. “Get those people organized, get them to work, get them to write letters to the editor.”

In a handful of areas in traditionally rural, Republican parts of the state, Trump's unexpected victory and brash style since taking office has spurred interest in starting or reviving dormant Democratic central committees. The Montana Democratic Party has also started a new Blue Bench initiative to recruit candidates for city, county and state-level races.

“Don’t think that for one minute if we continue to do the things we’ve done in the past we’re going to win,” Tester said. "We have to do more than that. We have to go farther than that.”

Tester also advocated for a strong effort to win seats in the Legislature, which hasn't seen a Democrat majority in both houses since 2005.

“The days of the 2004 election are long past and those folks are cycling out. We need a new crop of leaders coming up and the only way to do that is to look around at your neighborhood and if you see someone you like go talk to them.”


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