U.S. Sen. Jon Tester talks to MT Dem Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester told fellow Democrats here Friday if they think he’s in for an easy re-election race next year, think again.

“We should not be taking anything for granted,” he said at the Montana Democratic Party officers’ convention in Helena. “And I will tell you that I am not taking anything for granted. We have a tough election cycle ahead of us, no matter (which Republican) comes out of that primary.”

He predicted that the GOP nominee, whoever it is, will have “tens of millions, potentially a hundred million dollars” to aid their challenge of Tester in 2018.

Tester is running for a third consecutive term next year and is seen by many observers as one of the most vulnerable Democratic U.S. Senate incumbents, because he represents a state that went strongly for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.

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Yet Republicans don’t yet have a clear choice for their nominee. Five Republicans have either said or indicated they’re running for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination, including state Auditor Matt Rosendale.

Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, had $4.7 million in campaign funds at the end of June.

Tester faced a stiff challenge in 2012 against Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, prevailing with 48.5 percent of the vote to Rehberg’s 45 percent. More than $50 million was spent on the race, by the two campaigns and assorted outside political groups.

Party delegates will elect a new state party chair this weekend and are expected to choose Mary Sexton of Choteau, who was director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation under former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Tester said Democrats can’t win elections in Montana “if we only talk to people who think like we do.”

“We win elections by talking to everybody and making no assumptions on how they’re going to vote,” he said.

Tester also repeated one of his favorite themes – that Washington, D.C., is “broken” – but said after Republicans’ failure last month to pass a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, some lawmakers in the nation’s capital are actually talking about working together on health care.

“It’s just a matter of talking, by showing respect and not embarrassing people and getting together,” he said. “We can go to committee and we can get a bill that works for rural America, we can get a bill that works for middle-class people who are getting pounded with too high of (insurance) rates.”

Tester said the bill that failed had been drawn up in “smoke-filled rooms” and would have “kicked millions of people off health insurance,” contributing to its failure.

He also said his potential opponents want to take away abortion rights, take away access to public lands, take away “things like Medicare and Medicaid and jack up health-care costs,” and get “as much dark money into these races” as possible.

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