Montana Republicans have a 'dirty and shameless' trick for unseating Jon Tester in 2024: report

Montana Republicans have a 'dirty and shameless' trick for unseating Jon Tester in 2024: report

Democratic strategists and organizers breathed a sigh of relief when Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) announced that he will be running for reelection in 2024. Deep red Montana is a tough state for Democrats, but the centrist Tester has won three statewide races (2006, 2012 and 2018) and has a long history of reaching out to independent and GOP voters.

In February, when Tester hadn't said whether or not he was running, the Daily Beast's Ursula Perano stressed that Democrats viewed Montana as a "Tester or bust" situation. And they had serious doubts about their ability to find another Montana Democrat who could win statewide.

Tester has been aggressively campaigning for a fourth term, but Perano, in an article published by the Beast on April 12, reports that Montana Republicans may have found a "dirty" trick that could help them unseat Tester in 2024.

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"After three Senate elections in which Democrat Jon Tester narrowly beat the Republican candidates by — collectively — 40,000 votes, Montana Republicans are striking back," Perano explains. "The GOP-controlled state legislature is considering a radical change in election law — a change that is nakedly targeted at taking down Tester and could, in effect, flip one of the most vulnerable Senate seats well before November 2024. Montana Republicans are trying to take a page out of California's playbook and switch their primary election to the controversial top-two primary system, otherwise known as a 'jungle primary.'"

Perano continues, "But it's only for next year, when Tester, Montana's last statewide Democrat, is up for reelection. After that, the change would expire, supposedly so lawmakers could assess how things went. It's a move that would obviously benefit the GOP — with suspiciously convenient timing."

According to Perano, Democrats in the Montana State Senate are slamming the move as a "dirty" trick.

Democratic Montana State Sen. Pat Flowers told the Beast, "I continue to be astounded by it, to tell you the truth. It's just so brazen and shameless and an obvious effort to target one race: our next U.S. Senate race. And for me, it just demonstrates that Republicans are scared of Jon Tester."

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Sen. Shannon O’Brien, one of Flowers' Democratic colleagues in the Montana State Legislature, told the Beast, "I'm hearing that folks around the state feel like it's just dirty politics. In Montana, we really do pride ourselves in looking beyond red and blue. This bill sure feels like strategy to target one race."

Perano explains how a "jungle primary" works — and why one could be bad for Tester in 2024.

"In a jungle primary," the reporter notes, "all candidates of both parties run in the same primary, and the top two vote getters head to a runoff. That could mean that two Republicans simply beat Tester during the primary, and only they go to the final vote during the general election. More likely — but potentially just as consequential — it could mean that Tester and a Republican go head-to-head during the general election, and third-party candidates, namely Libertarians, wouldn’t have a spot on the ballot."

Perano adds, "In two of Tester's previous three races, Republicans and Libertarians combined got more votes than Tester's Democratic total. If there were no Libertarian option, the working assumption is Republicans would likely pick up those votes."

In 2022's midterms, Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives but slightly increased their effective majority in the U.S. Senate. And a Tester victory in Montana would increase their chances of keeping that majority.

According to The Hill's Al Weaver, Tester has had no problem in the fundraising department in 2023. The Montana senator, Weaver reports, "raised more than $5 million" in the fundraising quarter that ended on March 31 — 96 percent of it after announcing that he's running for reelection.

Weaver observes, "Tester occupies one of the three seats Republicans are most intensely targeting in 2024, alongside Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Brown has announced plans to seek a fourth term in office, while Manchin has maintained that he will not decide until later this year."

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Read the Daily Beast's full report at this link (subscription required).

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