Great Falls, Montana | Spending a little time in a state like Montana is enough to convince anyone that Washington is not the center of the universe. President Trump carried the state in 2016 by some 20 points and has been back here twice in the last month in an effort to help Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale beat back Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s bid for a third term.
Mr. Tester is among the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents according to most analysts, and national Democrats are counting on their vaunted “blue wave” to save him. But their leftward lurch and jihad against a president who remains quite popular in states they rarely visit could doom him.
At present, Mr. Tester still enjoys a slight lead in the race, but it is narrowing and the evidence suggests that Mr. Rosendale’s challenge has him in a bind both here and in Washington where his party’s leaders have mounted what amounts to a political thermonuclear attack on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings and routinely describe the president as deranged.
Mr. Tester will have to vote on the Kavanaugh nomination and that alone must be enough to keep him awake at night. He’s loyally supported his party’s agenda in the past and is still answering questions back home on why he opposed Neil Gorsuch and voted against the Trump tax reform bill, but no doubt assumed like his colleagues that by this November opposing an unpopular president would be seen as a plus by the voters he’ll need to win re-election.
Were he running in New York or Massachusetts, he would have been right, but Mr. Tester is running in a state that sees Mr. Trump very differently than folks in Manhattan or Boston. Montana Republicans like Mr. Rosendale are happy to align themselves with a president who Montana voters continue to support.
While national reporters covering Mr. Trump’s two recent visits to the state have focused on protesters and spent their time deconstructing the man’s every utterance, local reporters asked those who flocked to Great Falls and Billings to attend one of his rallies what they think about the Trump presidency.
While many agreed that the president’s rhetoric may at times be overblown, they seem convinced that he’s actually delivering on his campaign promises and that his efforts have revitalized the economy. That’s a big deal in a state that suffered greatly during the recession as people who just couldn’t find work two years ago find potential employers anxious to hire them.
When Mr. Trump came to Great Falls a few weeks ago, people lined up for hours to get a seat in an arena that seats 6,000. When it was full, a friend of mine rode his motorcycle along the line of those still hoping to get in; it was, according to his odometer, more than a full mile long. More were turned away than made it in.
Something similar happened this week in Billings, where hopefuls began lining up the day before the rally to hear the president who brought them to their feet time and again while praising candidate Rosendale and assuring them that their incumbent senator has been less than truthful in his claims that he actually supports the Trump agenda back in Washington.
Those words go to the very heart of Mr. Tester’s strategy, a strategy that used to work for elected officials in states like Montana who could get away with telling voters at home that they were in Washington representing them when they were more often voting with their party’s leaders against the expressed wishes of those who elected them. It’s a tougher act to pull off these days as more and more people get news in real time; transparency is the enemy of a two-faced politician.
It’s even tougher when a president like Mr. Trump uses his bully pulpit to correct the record. Mr. Tester greeted the president in Billings with television ads claiming that he is an ally of the president in Washington. The president was having none of it and while the Tester campaign spent a good bit on the ads, his claims were drowned out by the president’s speech.
Montana voters are an independent bunch and it is conceivable that they will re-elect Mr. Tester in spite of the help the president is providing Mr. Rosendale, but Montana voters don’t much like politicians telling them one thing and doing another, and none of them could have missed Mr. Trump’s observation that Jon Tester is just such a politician.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.