U.S. Senator Jon Tester, facing a tough re-election campaign this year, is hoping women voters will give him the push he needs to be elected to a third term in this increasingly Republican-leaning state.
The Democrat says history will determine whether the Women’s March was a moment or a movement still, “It certainly has the feel of a movement at this moment in time.”
He wants to tap into the desire among some March participants to answer the call for action that was issued this year. In Billings, participants were encouraged to run for office, volunteer at a non-profit, and “run to the polls.”
“I think the Women for Tester is an organization to try to harness the energy that we see all around the state of Montana from small towns to large towns,” Tester says. He says all issues are women’s issues and he wants, “To make sure that we’re giving the women of this state an avenue to make sure their voices are heard because I think it’s an important voice to hear.”
Tester was at the launch of a Women for Tester group Saturday in Bozeman.
Emma Foster, one of the co-chairs of the group, says her interest in politics began in the 4th grade. For others, she says, their inspiration was the 2016 Presidential election and the resulting Women’s March.
“It’s about that moment when you’re realizing that you can’t just support it from the sidelines, you have to be doing something,” she says.
The other co-chairs of Women for Tester are former state legislator Carolyn Pease-Lopez, an enrolled member of the Apsaalooke tribe; Rita Wells of the Billings Education Association, Liberty County Commission Maureen Wells of Chester, and Democratic State Representative Moffie Funk of Helena.
Funk says while it’s true this group is backing the Democratic incumbent, she says she wants Women for Tester to include all women, regardless of party affiliation.
“Because I know that my Republican sisters have just as many concerns as I do,” says Funk. “We are in this together."
Funk says they generally have the same goals, just a different way of achieving them.
Tester says his voting record aligns with the concerns of women and that all issues are women’s issues. He says Montana history is full of the accomplishments of women, saying he knows this well as the land he farms today comes from his mother's family.
“And if we’re going to move this country forward, women are going to be the ones leading the charge,” Tester says. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts.”
Tester faces a tough re-election bid as the state is becoming even more Republican leaning. He’s looking to women to help win a third term, “Women are an absolute critical part of the electorate that I need.”
He told the crowd there will be a lot of ads, but that to win in Montana it will take people talking to people, also known as “retail politics.”
He knows this first hand as his previous victories have been by narrow margins. In fact, he never received over 50% of the general election votes.
In 2006, he defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns 195,845 to 196,283 or by less than 1%. In 2012 Tester defeated former Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg by 236,123 to 218,051or about 4% points.
Tester will face off in November against the winner of the crowded Republican June primary that includes state Auditor Matt Rosendale, businessman Troy Downing, former Yellowstone County District Judge Russ Fagg, state Senator Al Olszewski, and businessman Ron Murry.
Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy and former state Senate President, is not taking for granted that women will vote for him, even though some at the Women’s March were there protesting the President and the Republican controlled Congress.
“There’s a lot of things we can look at and say, ‘Geez that’s not going very well. And I’m concerned about this country and all this that’s going on over here,’” he says. “But the truth is what’s going on that’s really, really good in this country.”
Tester says it’s led people to get engaged, “Women are engaged. And if that stays that way this country is going to be a better place because Democracy works best when peole are a part of that Democracy and not sitting on their hands.”
Tester says all issues are women’s issues whether it’s healthcare, paycheck equality, or public lands. He says he wants to make sure women’s voices are heard.