They bill themselves as salt of the earth, just two Montana country boys. But Dennis Rehberg, the rancher from Billings and Jon Tester, the farmer from Big Sandy are a lot more than cowboy hats, starched Wranglers and a new pair of boots. These two men are skilled politicians with a long list of political laundry to wash.
Tester and Rehberg are familiar names with political baggage. They've been in the arena before. They’re defined by years of voting history and they know how to scrap.
A rancher by birth, Billings Republican Dennis Rehberg served three terms in the Montana State House of Representatives before then-Governor Stan Stephens appointed him Lieutenant Governor in 1991.
In 1996 Rehberg made a run at a seat in the United States Senate. The bid to unseat incumbent Max Baucus failed. Four years later, Rehberg was elected to Congress. It’s a position he’s held through six terms.
Democrat farmer Jon Tester was raised on the family homestead near Big Sandy. Tester’s political teeth were cut on the Big Sandy school board. In 1998, a Republican neighbor decided against another term in the legislature. Tester ran to replace him and was elected. In 2005, facing term limits in the legislature, Tester challenged Republican incumbent Senator Conrad Burns. He won in 2006 by the narrowest of margins, sending the organic grain farmer to Washington, D.C.
There’s a third party candidate on the ballot this year. Dan Cox appears as the Libertarian pick for the Senate race. Cox isn’t showing up on campaign finance reports and he doesn’t have a political voting history.The most recent poll out of MSU Billings puts Cox at six percent with a margin of error of plus or minus five percent.