Havre Daily News
Senate President Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, began his first official day of campaigning for the U.S. Senate close to home today.
He planned to greet a few of his local supporters in Big Sandy before heading to Havre in a tractor-trailer decorated with lettering advertising his bid for the seat now held by Republican Conrad Burns. In Havre, he was to make a few informal stops before participating in a public discussion about this past legislative session at a forum organized by Bear Paw Development Corp. After that, he was to begin a quick two-day tour of the state.
Tester will face state Auditor John Morrison and Bozeman resident Clint Wilkes in the Democratic primary.
Morrison, who began his race in mid-April, said today he is glad to see more candidates in the race.
"Jon Tester is a good state senator," he said. "The fact that he and other people are interested in running reaffirms that Conrad Burns is on his way out."
Tester said he first considered running for the office during the recent legislative session. But he didn't have time to consider it seriously until the session ended and he returned to Big Sandy in early spring.
"That gives a person a lot of tractor time to sit down and think," said Tester, who operates an organic farm. "That puts you in touch with your roots."
Tester said people approached him during the session and suggested he run for Burns' seat, which is up for grabs in November 2006.
Tester needed to talk about it with his family first, he said. One consideration was the operation of his family farm, which his grandfather homesteaded. "It's not like it's a disposable piece of property," he said.
The other was the move to Washington, D.C. Tester said his family was in full support of the decision to run.
"You've got common sense and leadership abilities," he said he was told by constituents, who have also urged him to run.
Tester is finishing his fourth term in the state Senate, his last due to term limits. In the Legislature he has focused on health care, education and jobs.
"The experience I got in the Montana Legislature, particularly as the leader of the Senate, has prepared me to represent the people of Montana well in Washington, D.C.," he said today.
Tester said he thinks one of his biggest assets as a candidate besides his experience in legislative leadership is his background.
"I think I can take that small business perspective and do some good things for the state of Montana," he said.
Among national issues, Social Security and Medicare are Tester's biggest concerns.
"I think the issue of privatization of (Social Security) and the risk of losing that program is not healthy," he said.
As for Montana's relationship with the federal government, "The federal government plays a huge role in the state's budget, particularly in the Medicaid account," he said. "It helps our elderly and disabled. That's a critical component from the D.C. level."
Tester said he thinks he can defeat Burns in an election. "It's going to be very difficult," he said. "It's going to take a lot of work. He's an incumbent and he's been in there a lot of years."
But Tester said his background gives him an advantage: "The fact that I've lived in this environment my entire life and made a living here and understand the challenges that Montanans have."
Before Tester can face Burns, he will have to deal with Morrison. Wilkes has not held elected office before.
"He's got a quicker start but this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon," Tester said. "It's a lot of work. He who gets out there and hustles usually wins these things."
Two weeks ago, Tester traveled to Washington, D.C., to test the waters among party leadership. "We were treated very well," he said. "Everybody was very supportive of me running. They thought I had the right profile to win."
As for choosing to support either Tester or Morrison, "They didn't go that far," Tester said. "Most of them want to see how things flush out."