HELENA, Mont. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana was named chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee Thursday, a position that places him in a main leadership role within the national Democratic Party.
Tester, 58, accepted the role after being asked by Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to help the party regain the Senate majority in 2016.
“I’m accepting this position to recruit and support candidates who understand the issues facing regular, working Americans,” he said in a statement. “Our country needs leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and responsibly govern to move our nation forward. We need senators who support policies that strengthen the middle class, continue to grow our economy, and create prosperity for all Americans. As chairman, I recognize that every Senate race in this country is different and I understand the need for candidates to have the flexibility to run their own races.”
Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, won two close U.S. Senate races in 2006 and 2012. He also helped lead Democrats to the majority in the Montana State Senate in 2005.
He faces challenges in the position after the GOP cruised to victory in last week’s midterm elections. Republicans took majority control in the Senate for the first time since 2006 and tightened their grip in the House.
While Tester faces obstacles, he also has an opportunity to do well, said political scientist David Parker of Montana State University.
“They just got shellacked, but we’re moving into a cycle with a plethora of opportunity to take back seats,” Parker said of Democrats, adding that they generally do better in presidential election years.
Tester is a good fit for the job because he has shown he can raise money and bring people together from all walks of life, Parker said.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he would seek this out and be asked to do it,” he said. “It totally fits with the man.”
Another challenge for Tester will come in balancing added travel around the country for candidate recruiting and fundraising while keeping in touch with his constituents, Parker said.
Montana’s other Senate seat was won handily by Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines on Nov. 4. The seat had been long held by Democrats, including Sen. John Walsh and former Sen. Max Baucus.
Tester is taking the reins as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet who led the committee in the 2013-14 cycle.
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