Jon Tester goes to court to save his seat

It’s become something of a cliche this year to say that Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) is in trouble. He’s been at or near the top of everyone’s list of Dem senators ripe for having his seat flipped. Donald Trump carried Montana by 20 points in 2016 and there has been no appreciable “blue wave” in evidence in Big Sky Country since then. Tester has done an admirable job of portraying himself as a Blue Dog in two election cycles, swerving far enough toward the middle to attract sufficient Republican and independent votes to win two terms, but the times have been changing.

And now, already nervous about his prospects, Tester is facing yet another obstacle, this time from his left flank. The Green Party gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot this year and they’re hosting a primary with some solid candidates. This could siphon off enough votes to put Tester out of the running. (Keep in mind that Tester didn’t manage to get 50% of the vote in either of his victories.) So what are the Democrats going to do about it? They’re suing to throw the Green Party off the ballot. (Washington Times)

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana was already facing a tough re-election battle in a state that Donald Trump won by a landslide — and then the Green Party made the Democrat’s job that much tougher by qualifying for the ballot.

Now the Montana Democratic Party is scrambling to oust the Greens. It has asked a judge to decertify the left-wing party by declaring 180 petition signatures invalid for reasons such as bad handwriting, use of initials instead of full names and failure to write in cursive.

The lawsuit, filed April, 2 has the Greens seeing red. They accuse state Democrats of trying to disenfranchise voters in a politically motivated attack.

“They’re scared,” said Danielle Breck, Montana Green Party coordinator. “There seems to be this belief that we’re going to spoil the race, particularly [for] Jon Tester. His seat is at risk, and they’re afraid we’re going to siphon votes from them.”

This isn’t the Green Party you’re used to seeing in other races. They’ve recruited some serious candidates for their primary, including Steve Kelly, a former Democratic nominee for the state’s sole House seat. And that’s where the real problem for Tester and the state Democratic party is coming from. The Greens are attracting a lot of liberal Democrats who are tired of running a Blue Dog and want somebody more in the Bernie Sanders mold. Kelly even released a statement reminding everyone that Sanders carried Montana in the 2016 Democratic primary.

When you’re in a position like Tester’s, squeaking by with plurality wins, you pretty much need every Democratic vote out there plus some Republicans and independents to pull off a win. If a Berniecrat draws off a bunch of votes from your base the race is probably over before it begins.

The tactic that the Democrats are using is a tried and true method straight out of the campaign manager playbook. The Greens needed 5,000 signatures to get on the ballot, with a minimum count in each of the state’s legislative district. They turned in more than 10,000, with more than 7,300 of them being eventually certified. Now Tester’s backers are asking for many of them to be thrown out, seeking to establish a pattern which might convince the judge to toss the Green Party from the ballot.

The parties involved only have until Friday to make their respective cases and the primary is scheduled for next week. Even if the Democrats prevail, it’s going to look awfully fishy to take the Greens off the general election ballot after they’ve had their primary and selected a candidate. Break out the popcorn, because the Montana Senate race just became even more interesting.