Update to include New Year’s Card from Zinke’s 2012 Lieutenant Gubernatorial campaign.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester from Montana is having a fantastic day. Donald Trump is all but certain to nominate Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana to be Secretary of the Interior. Zinke, a geologist and Navy SEAL, is an eminently qualified pick, but Democrats should rejoice along with Republicans.
Democrats should be thrilled at this news. Although he has a vote record that they might take some issues with, the “Theodore Roosevelt Republican” being selected remains some of the best news for Democrats in the weeks since the election.
Prior to today, it was all but certain that Zinke would challenge Tester in 2018. Since Montana only has one congressional district, Zinke has already twice won statewide election. Democrats sensed that he was angling to challenge Tester, and Zinke’s 2016 opponent, Denise Juneau, received plenty of attention due to hopes that she could knock Zinke off. However, Zinke beat her by almost 16%.
Democrats face a daunting Senate map in 2018, and Montana remains a likely Republican pickup. However, Tester is a formidable campaigner. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried Montana by almost 14%, but Tester beat Republican Denny Rehberg by 4%, with a Libertarian Party candidate likely costing Republicans the seat. Tester allies spent over $500,000 in 2012 urging Republicans to vote for the Libertarian candidate, but he nevertheless outperformed Barack Obama by almost 10%.
A hurdle Tester will have to overcome is that Montana is reliably Republican on a presidential level, not having voted Democratic since 1992. However, it has been willing to elect Democrats to the Senate, only electing three Republicans since 1913. Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, was also just reelected, even while Trump was carrying the state by 24%.
Tester is certainly not out of the woods, since Montana Republicans continue to have an incredibly strong bench. Other potential opponents range from Rob O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who allegedly shot Osama bin Laden to Marc Racicot, a former governor and Chair of the Republican National Committee.
Assuming that Zinke is confirmed, a likely Tester opponent will be out of the running. With a Senate map where Democrats need any advantage they can get, this is no doubt welcome news.
UPDATE: a 2011 Christmas card from the gubernatorial campaign where Zinke was the candidate for lieutenant governor has resurfaced.