Since 2006, one Democrat has evaded Republicans and managed to hang on to their senate seat in a state growing increasingly red. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana will be a top target of Republicans once again in 2024, and his race could hand them the senate majority. Montana’s other senator, Steve Daines, now leading the NRSC, will do all he can to oust Tester in hopes of reaching the goal of a majority. Daines has placed top aide, Jason Thielman, as the NRSC’s executive director and together the two will work to find a top notch candidate to run against Tester.
Thielman told The Washington Post recently:
“The biggest disadvantage that Jon Tester has is that there isn’t a senator in America whose voting record is more out of step with the preferences of his state,”
“He is proud to be out of step with Montana and frankly arrogant about his ability to do so and think he can get away with it.”
Thielman went on to note that he didn’t believe Tester had enough grace to win in the now deep red state of Montana. Tester’s team has shot back at Republican attacks saying they are scared of him and that he protects the Montana way of life.
According to The Washington Post:
But Tester’s allies essentially agree that the race will be a test of whether the senator’s authenticity and connection with his home state’s voters can override most Montanans’ inclination to vote Republican. Trump carried the state by 16 percentage points in 2020 — less than he won it by in 2016. But in 2022, Democratic state lawmakers lost races in the party’s former stronghold of Great Falls and Cascade County — Tester’s backyard — and the GOP gained a supermajority in the Montana state legislature.
The state’s population also has grown rapidly since 2020, and Thielman predicts many of the new residents, who he believes were fleeing more restrictive covid-19 policies, will vote Republican. And Daines was able to defeat popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to win reelection in 2020, a warning sign that likability might not be enough to save a Democrat statewide anymore.
“It’s really a question about political brand versus personal brand. And that’ll be the story of this election,” said Democratic strategist Jim Messina, President Obama’s former campaign manager, who has advised Tester in the past.
Tester remains a likeable figure in Montana but many question whether his charm and personality will be enough to stave off political divides. Daines and Thielman will need to select the right candidate to run. In the past, Tester has been able to paint rivals as disingenuous or not looking out for Montanans. Reports say that the NRSC is heavily recruiting veteran and CEO Tim Sheehy to run. Sheehy is the CEO of a Montana based aerospace company and checks off all the boxes as an ideal candidate for Daines and Thielman.