Montana Sens. Tester and Daines’s feud heats up ahead of pivotal 2024 contest

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Montana Sens. Tester and Daines’s feud heats up ahead of pivotal 2024 contest

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The working relationship between Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) appears to be deteriorating as the former leads the GOP’s efforts to retake the Senate in 2024.

In his capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s Senate campaign arm, Daines has been on the hunt for candidates to challenge Democrats (such as Tester) who are up for reelection next year. The situation places the Montana senators, who have long had a frosty relationship, in an awkward position while serving in a chamber known for its collegiality, especially between same-state members.

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While the two Montanans appear to work together, as evidenced by the joint press releases their offices put out, the two are entering what will be an undeniably uncomfortable period as Republicans attempt to oust the three-term Democrat from his seat.

Tester said in a Politico interview published Friday that his relationship with Daines “couldn’t be better.”

Asked if Daines took the NRSC job specifically to defeat him, the Democratic senator replied sarcastically, “That’s your perspective. And I don’t necessarily think that perspective is wrong.”

Escalating the Daines-Tester feud is a new effort by state Republicans to limit third-party bids in the Democrat’s 2024 race. The bill, which would require candidates to win more than 50% of the vote by establishing a top-two primary, was only proposed for Tester’s race as a trial for future elections. Applying the rule only to this race as a trial caused some state GOP lawmakers to oppose the bill, with many arguing it was an effort to upend Tester’s reelection chances.

The legislation, which passed the state Senate on Tuesday, could hypothetically tip the balance in favor of Republicans if third-party votes are not counted in the final contest. While Tester could emerge victorious even with the rule in place (he won his 2018 race with more than 50% of the vote), the change could certainly shift the 2024 contest in the GOP’s favor.

While Daines does not claim to be involved in the Montana bill, the legislation’s chief sponsor, GOP state Sen. Greg Hertz, said he was helped on the proposal by Chuck Denowh, a lobbyist who lists finance work for Daines on his LinkedIn page. Hertz, meanwhile, said he was not aware if Denowh supported the bill on behalf of any particular client.

“I don’t know if it would help them or hurt [Republicans],” Hertz told the outlet. “My main goal is just to make sure that the person who wins the U.S. Senate race in Montana has more than a majority.”

Asked about his relationship with Tester in an interview with the outlet, Daines insisted that the two “are friends” before trashing his Democratic colleague’s political record.

“He supports about everything the Biden administration has tried to do, and I fought against that: massive spending bills, tax increases, judges,” the NRSC chairman said. “Across the board. So there’s a real clear contrast.”

There appears to be no love lost between the two men, who have sparred before in electoral matters.

“There’s some stuff in Montana politics that goes back a while,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said of their troubles.

Daines briefly launched a bid against Tester in 2012 before dropping out to run for an open House seat, which he won. The Republican won his Senate seat in 2014, and the two worked together despite Daines growing close with former President Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr., his eldest son.

Tester played at least some role in recruiting former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, to challenge Daines in his 2020 reelection bid. He says Bullock made “that decision [to run] on his own,” avoiding credit for the recruitment effort. Daines trounced Bullock by double digits.

The Bullock issue appears to have had a negative effect on Daines and Tester’s relationship, which Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) blamed on the latter, saying, “I’m sure Jon Tester has something to do with the race between Governor Bullock and Steve Daines.”

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“Really bad scenario. It’s just not a good situation,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), another red-state Democrat up for reelection next year, said of the Daines-Tester situation. “I know it’s not a very close relationship, I think I’m accurate in that.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), a former NRSC chairman, said he hopes the feud “doesn’t become terribly personal,” while admitting, “I don’t know how you avoid that.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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