FILE - In this July 5, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump looks to GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, giving him the thumbs-up during a rally at the Four Seasons Arena at Montana ExpoPark, in Great Falls, Mont. Montana State Auditor Rosendale has made his support for Trump a centerpiece of his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Montana Sen. Tester talks up Trump to defuse GOP challenge

September 05, 2018 - 3:27 pm

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester unveiled a new television ad Wednesday promoting his collaboration with President Donald Trump as the Montana Democrat sought to inoculate himself against conservative critics ahead of Trump's Thursday visit to the state.

The ad highlights two pieces of veterans' health care legislation from Tester that were signed into law by the Republican president. It includes news footage saying Tester helped write the bills, side by side with images of Trump praising their passage.

The ad is scheduled to air Thursday on stations in Billings, where Trump is due to appear in the evening to promote Tester challenger, State Auditor Matt Rosendale. Rosendale has made his support for Trump a centerpiece of his challenge to the two-term incumbent.

Trump won Montana by 20 percentage points in the 2016 election. He took a personal interest in Montana's Senate contest in April after Tester released allegations that derailed the president's nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs

When Trump last visited Montana in July, Tester took out full-page ads in 14 newspapers welcoming the president to Montana. Trump proceeded to slam Tester at a rally in Great Falls as an obstructionist who was out of touch with the state's voters.

Tester told The Associated Press that Thursday's visit by Trump would be "a great opportunity" for the president to hear about some of the security challenges faced by federal agents along Montana's border with Canada.

"Anytime you get a president of the United States to come to Montana, it's certainly not a bad thing for Montana," Tester said. "He's going to do what he's going to do. I just hope he uses the trip for more than political purposes, but we'll see."

Rosendale said any notion that Tester and Trump are working together was "rather amusing" given that Tester opposed the president on matters ranging from tax cuts to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Jon has opposed the president and he's trying to come back here and say he's supporting the president," Rosendale said. "The president, who Jon says he's working so well with, is going to say, 'Jon isn't working with me.'"

Montana voters have been trending more toward Republican candidates in recent elections and the GOP now controls every statewide office except that of Gov. Steve Bullock and Tester's seat.

Yet analysts say Montana's affinity for Trump doesn't automatically translate to other races. The state's voters are avowedly independent and more likely than those in any other state to split a ticket and vote for both Democrats and Republicans in the same election, according to Montana State University political analyst David Parker.

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