When Sen. Jon Tester (D-MD) runs for re-election in 2024, he will face a tough battle against several strong GOP challengers to retain his seat in the deeply red state.
Republicans are mounting a strong push to flip some of the 23 Democrat Senate seats up for re-election in 2024, and Tester's seat in Montana is a prime target for flipping.
Tester has survived three terms by declaring himself a centrist, but that is becoming increasingly difficult to do in the Senate as a Democrat unless you are Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has actually blocked key progressive votes since 2020 when the Senate had a Democrat majority (if by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris).
The state's two Republican House members, the attorney general, and the governor are all looking to run against Tester. One of them will prevail and have considerable name recognition and existing support with voters.
Rep. Matt Rosendale was defeated by Tester in 2018, but is reportedly itching for a rematch. At the time, Rosendale was state auditor, but he was elected to the House in 2020 and re-elected in 2022.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, a former Navy Seal, got his start in the House in 2014. He spent two years in former President Donald Trump's administration, which precluded him from running for the Senate in 2018, then returned to the House in 2020.
Governor Greg Gianforte has not indicated any interest in the seat, but he has been popular in the state and could certainly run if he did have interest. Recently, he has bragged about all-time low unemployment of 2.3% and a record number of jobs created.
State Attorney General Austin Knudsen left the House to become AG in 2020. He has not talked about running for Senate, but rumors have swirled.
At 66, Tester could just retire, but he announced Wednesday that he will make an attempt at a fourth term.
“I am running for re-election so I can keep fighting for Montanans and demand that Washington stand up for our veterans and lower costs,” he said. “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable and I’m running to defend our Montana values.”
A recent poll showed that Tester has a 60% job approval rating with voters in the state, which is a nice starting point for him and could present a challenge for GOP contenders.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) released a statement blasting Tester, even before the state GOP can get any candidates lined up.
“The Tester-Biden agenda has given Montanans rising crime, higher taxes, and an open southern border that is flooding communities with deadly fentanyl,” said NRSC spokeswoman Maggie Abboud. “Montanans are going to send Joe Biden’s favorite Senator packing in 2024.”
Montana's other senator, Steve Daines (R), suggested that Tester would go the way of former Democrat Governor Steve Bullock, who lost a race to Daines in 2020.