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Montana's Jon Tester, a rare red state Democrat in Senate, announces reelection bid

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A dirt farmer and Montana's only statewide-elected Democrat will seek reelection to the U.S. Senate. Jon Tester's campaign launch boosts Democrats' hopes of holding on to their slim Senate majority in 2024. Montana Public Radio's Austin Amestoy reports.

JON TESTER: It is great to be back with you today to speak a little bit about how we can better serve our bosses, the people of Montana.

AUSTIN AMESTOY, BYLINE: Days before announcing his fourth run for the U.S. Senate, Jon Tester addressed a joint session of the Montana legislature. He struck a moderate tone, appealing to his base and saying he'll stand up to President Biden on issues like securing the southern border and constructing the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

TESTER: I will always take on anyone to defend Montana values and do what's right for our state.

AMESTOY: In recent years, Tester has done what many other Democrats haven't been able to do - win in rural conservative states. In Montana, a state Donald Trump carried twice by double-digit margins, Tester was narrowly reelected in 2018 despite Trump visiting the state four times to campaign against him. The Cook Political Report rates Montana's 2024 Senate race as Lean Democrat with Tester in the contest. Lee Banville is a journalism professor and political analyst at the University of Montana.

LEE BANVILLE: It was obviously going to be a highly anticipated decision by Sen. Tester whether to run again because the alternative was really unclear.

AMESTOY: Banville says Tester's bid to retain his seat will test his ability to reach a new landscape of Montana voters. When Tester won his first Senate race in 2006, Montana had a Democratic governor and was known for its power sharing between the parties. Now, though, Republicans hold a historic supermajority in the state legislature and have pushed Democrats out of all other statewide-elected positions. Tester's latest bid gives Democrats with dwindling control in Montana hopes of keeping a foothold in Congress.

Democrats hold the majority in the U.S. Senate by just a single seat and have twice as many incumbent positions up for reelection in 2024 than Republicans. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by Tester's counterpart from Montana, Sen. Steve Daines, already released a statement attacking Tester by linking him with President Joe Biden and blaming the duo for an uptick of crime and fentanyl distribution in Montana. Banville says Tester's entrance gives Democrats a better chance, but Tester always runs a close race.

BANVILLE: But I will tell you, it will be a large battle in the state of Montana to see if Tester can win reelection again.

AMESTOY: Tester has never won by more than 4 points. For NPR News, I'm Austin Amestoy in Missoula, Mont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Austin Amestoy