Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana won a second term, defeating Republican House member Denny Rehberg, according to the Associated Press.
With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Tester had 48.8 percent to Rehberg’s 44.7 percent. Dan Cox, the Libertarian candidate, received 6.5 percent of the vote, more than double the share that the Libertarian candidate for president received in Montana. Those votes may have come at Rehberg’s expense.
Rehberg and his supporters worked to tie Tester to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Montana has fewer people per square mile than any state except Alaska and Wyoming.
Both parties spent millions of dollars on advertising, much of it negative. Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that former President George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove helped create, ran an ad that showed Tester with his arm around the president.
“Barack Obama and Jon Tester dug a hole” with the 2009 stimulus bill, the 2010 health-care law and a 2011 measure raising the federal debt ceiling, the ad said. “They want Montanans to pay the price.”
Rehberg ran an ad claiming Tester’s support for the Obama administration’s 2011 air-quality regulations contributed to Montana PPL’s decision to close a coal-fired power plant in Billings in 2015. Tester said the company was using federal air-quality rules as an excuse to cut costs.
Tester’s campaign and Democratic groups countered with ads claiming Rehberg, 57, would turn Medicare, the federal healthcare program for senior citizens, into a voucher system. They said Rehberg supported cuts to education, including Pell grants for college students.
Tester, 56, said he broke with the Obama administration by supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, opposing the auto bailout, and trying to remove Endangered Species Act protection from gray wolves that Montana ranchers say are preying on livestock.
Six years ago, as part of a wave that led to Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Tester defeated three-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns by 3,562 votes, less than 1 percent of the total votes cast.
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