BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester unveiled a new television ad Wednesday promoting his collaboration with President Donald Trump on veterans' issues as the Montana Democrat sought to inoculate himself against conservative critics ahead of a Trump visit to the state.
The ad is scheduled to air Thursday on stations in Billings, where Trump is due to appear at an evening rally to promote State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Tester's Republican opponent in the November election. Rosendale has made his support for Trump a centerpiece of his challenge to the two-term incumbent.
The ad highlights two pieces of veterans' health care legislation signed into law by the Republican president — one intended to improve access to care and another to protect corruption whistleblowers. It includes news footage saying Tester helped write the bills, side by side with images of Trump praising their passage.
Republicans dismissed the ad as a shameless attempt to gain the president's favor and deflect attention from their differences on immigration, tax cuts and the Supreme Court.
Trump won Montana by 20 percentage points in the 2016 election, buoying Republican hopes of toppling Tester. The president 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 party now controls every statewide office except that of Gov. Steve Bullock and Tester's seat.
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 presidential election, according to Montana State University political analyst David Parker.
In a sign of the race's competitiveness, Tester's campaign this week issued what it called an emergency fundraising appeal, saying a poll had Rosendale "within the margin of error" in the contest. Tester also formed a "Republicans for Tester" group that includes some local elected officials from the GOP.
National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Calvin Moore said the group represented "a sad attempt by Tester to cover up his liberal record."
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