Final battle in Senate race: Getting supporters to polls

Published 11-06-2018

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale have made their last pitches to Montana voters, the celebrities and national politicians have left town and now it comes down to which side best motivated their supporters to show up in force at the polls Tuesday.

Election Day caps an extended 25-day voting period in Montana, with most people mailing in ballots starting in mid-October. But about a third of voters in the state's midterm elections will show up at their polling places to help decide one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the nation, election officials estimated.

Most people have made up their minds about Tester and Rosendale. The candidates and political observers say few undecided voters are left after the candidates and outside groups spent more than $67 million to influence their choice, a record in Montana politics.

Both Tester and Rosendale have spent the last days of the campaign focused on getting supporters to the polls.

"You gotta' have neighbors and relatives, even the ones that you don't like," Tester exhorted a cheering crowd at a recent rally in Helena. "Get ahold of them and get them to vote, get them to vote right, and this election will turn out very, very well."

Tester is battling to keep his seat in a state that has increasingly voted for conservative candidates over the past decade and that overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump two years ago. Trump made a record four appearances in Montana to support Rosendale and to blast Tester, whom the president blames for scuttling his first nominee to head the Veterans Affairs department.

Tester, 62, responded to the Republican star power with campaign support from celebrities like Jeff Bridges and Pearl Jam. Tester has never won a U.S. Senate election with a majority of the vote, and he said he knew it would be close again this time.

He sought to capitalize on a Democratic base outraged by Trump's election and energized by the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. At the same time, Tester tried to appeal to the Trump supporters he needed to win. He cast himself as an independent who would support the president when it was in Montana's interests and oppose him when it wasn't.

Rosendale, 58, framed himself as a champion of the president's agenda and said Tester sold out Montana's interests for those of the Senate's Democratic leaders. His get-out-the-vote strategy has leaned heavily on rallies and appearances by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, prominent GOP senators and the president's oldest son.

During Saturday's rally by Trump in Belgrade, Rosendale declared Montana "Trump

Tester, 62, responded to the Republican star power with campaign support from celebrities like Jeff Bridges and Pearl Jam. Tester has never won a U.S. Senate election with a majority of the vote, and he said he knew it would be close again this time.

He sought to capitalize on a Democratic base outraged by Trump's election and energized by the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. At the same time, Tester tried to appeal to the Trump supporters he needed to win. He cast himself as an independent who would support the president when it was in Montana's interests and oppose him when it wasn't.

Rosendale, 58, framed himself as a champion of the president's agenda and said Tester sold out Montana's interests for those of the Senate's Democratic leaders. His get-out-the-vote strategy has leaned heavily on rallies and appearances by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, prominent GOP senators and the president's oldest son.

During Saturday's rally by Trump in Belgrade, Rosendale declared Montana "Trump country."

"He may not be on the ballot this year, but I will tell you, his policies are," Rosendale said. "President Trump needs our help right now to win this race. I need your help right now to win this race."

Trump's visits also aimed to boost the campaign of U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, but in doing so, the president raised an issue that the Montana Republican has tried to keep quiet: Gianforte's assault on a reporter last year.

During an October rally in Missoula, Trump said Gianforte was "my kind of guy" for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Gianforte's opponent, Democrat Kathleen Williams, had been trying to bring the attack back to the forefront, releasing an ad with audio from the assault as voting got underway.

Gianforte is defending the seat he's held for just 16 months by closely aligning himself with Trump's agenda. He won a 2017 special election to fill the rest of Ryan Zinke's term after he became Interior secretary.

Williams said Gianforte hasn't done anything of note in office and that she wants to restore civility and integrity to the office. She was trying to become the first Democrat to win Montana's sole House seat in 22 years.

Montana voters also are being asked to decide four ballot

Rosendale, 58, framed himself as a champion of the president's agenda and said Tester sold out Montana's interests for those of the Senate's Democratic leaders. His get-out-the-vote strategy has leaned heavily on rallies and appearances by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, prominent GOP senators and the president's oldest son.

During Saturday's rally by Trump in Belgrade, Rosendale declared Montana "Trump country."

"He may not be on the ballot this year, but I will tell you, his policies are," Rosendale said. "President Trump needs our help right now to win this race. I need your help right now to win this race."

Trump's visits also aimed to boost the campaign of U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, but in doing so, the president raised an issue that the Montana Republican has tried to keep quiet: Gianforte's assault on a reporter last year.

During an October rally in Missoula, Trump said Gianforte was "my kind of guy" for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Gianforte's opponent, Democrat Kathleen Williams, had been trying to bring the attack back to the forefront, releasing an ad with audio from the assault as voting got underway.

Gianforte is defending the seat he's held for just 16 months by closely aligning himself with Trump's agenda. He won a 2017 special election to fill the rest of Ryan Zinke's term after he became Interior secretary.

Williams said Gianforte hasn't done anything of note in office and that she wants to restore civility and integrity to the office. She was trying to become the first Democrat to win Montana's sole House seat in 22 years.

Montana voters also are being asked to decide four ballot issues, two of which drew multimillion-dollar campaigns that sought their defeat.

One is a proposal to extend the state's Medicaid expansion program, which serves about 96,000 people and was scheduled to expire next year. The initiative would pay for up to $26 million of the annual Medicaid expansion costs by raising the state's tobacco tax for the first time since 2005.

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, has spent more than $17 million in a campaign to sink the measure.

Another proposal would create new standards for cleaning up the sites of future mines. Mining companies would have to provide evidence that they will not leave perpetual water pollution after they cease operations. The mining industry opposed it.

The final two ballot issues were referred to the ballot by the Republican-led Legislature. One would extend a statewide property tax by 10 years to benefit the state's university system. The other would limit who can turn in a ballot on behalf of another person to that voter's relatives or acquaintances.

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Brown reported from Billings.

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