GREAT FALLS – Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester scraped out another narrow victory Wednesday, defeating Republican challenger Matt Rosendale by 49.4 percent to 48 percent, to win a third consecutive term.
Rosendale, the state auditor, trailed Tester by about 7,000 votes Wednesday afternoon, with more than 95 percent of the votes counted.
The race was called for Tester late Wednesday morning, but several thousand votes remained uncounted Wednesday afternoon.
“I just thank the people of the state of Montana,” he said to a raucous group of supporters at the Holiday Inn in Great Falls Wednesday morning. “This is not a job that’s a picnic. It’s not a job where you’re on paid vacation.
“This is a job … if you work really really hard, you can get some things done. We’ve tried to work really, really hard, and we’ve gotten some things done.”
Tester, 62, a farmer from Big Sandy won for the third consecutive time in a contest that wasn’t called until the day after Election Day. He also has never won more than 50 percent in each of his victories, which each featured a Libertarian candidate than won a few percentage points.
Libertarian Rick Breckenridge carded about 3 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s race.
Tester staked out an early lead Tuesday night when the first vote counts came in, but it slowly ebbed away during the evening. Not long after midnight, Rosendale led by as many as 4,000 votes, as returns from rural counties came in.
But tens of thousands of votes had yet to be counted in Billings, Great Falls, Bozeman and Missoula – the latter two cities where Tester rolled up significant margins of victory.
By 9 a.m., after some of those votes began to be counted, Tester retook the lead and never relinquished it.
At his victory speech Wednesday morning in Great Falls, Tester said it’s time for Congress and the president to move beyond political division and work together to get things done for the American people.
“As I have traversed this state, north, south, east and west, the people I’ve talked to, the biggest issue they bring up is, `Why can’t you work together?’” he said. “Well, we can. And we will. And it will happen because the American people are demanding it. No more divisive politics.”
Late Tuesday, Tester told supporters that he felt confident of victory, even though thousands of votes remained to be counted.
“I feel absolutely, unequivocally very good about where we’re at right now,” he said. “And I will tell you that I look forward to sharing with you tomorrow some very good news.
“But I can’t do it tonight. And I can’t do it tonight because we have to wait for all of the votes to be counted.”
Rosendale, the state auditor, told his supporters at a Helena election-night party Tuesday that the race wouldn’t be decided until Wednesday.
“It looks like it’s going to be a long night,” he said. “They’re going to be driggling and driving votes in for quite some time now.”
The Senate race is the most expensive single electoral contest in Montana history, with more than $60 million spent by the candidates and outside groups.
President Trump also visited Montana four times since July to campaign for Rosendale and against Tester, including a stop at the Bozeman airport on Saturday.
— story by Mike Dennison – MTN News