Winning the sportsmen vote: How Tester took Montana

November 7, 2012

Outside special interests dumped some $30 million dollars on the Montana race for the US Senate between Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Republican challenger Denny Rehberg, but the race came down to something that costs $19: A Montana resident hunting and fishing license.

Sportsmen issues of access, wolves and gun rights headlined both the news columns and the advertising in both campaigns. Sen. Tester convinced Montanans he understood their values, and their outdoor way of life.

Montana voters went for Mitt Romney 56-43, and then turned around and reelected Sen. Tester by a margin of five percentage points. Rehberg spent nearly $10 million trying to convince Montanans that Tester was a liberal clone of President Obama. That message failed.

It failed in part because Tester invested major political capital in listening to Montana sportsmen and women, and then pulling the levers of power for them.

The race was close. Every vote counted and was fought hard over. But there’s no denying the hunting and fishing vote helped set up the debate, and helped seal the outcome.

Read more insights on this race from our own Ben Long at High Country News.