HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Democratic Sen. Jon Tester overcame President Donald Trump’s personal interest in his defeat to win a third term by holding on to his base and poaching voters who gave Trump a landslide victory in Montana in 2016.
Tester beat Republican Matt Rosendale this week in a close race highlighted by Trump’s four rallies in support of Rosendale. The president acknowledged at his last rally that his interest in the race stemmed from anger at Tester, whom he blames for the withdrawal of his first nominee to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, White House physician Ronny Jackson.
Trump remains popular in Montana, and each rally was packed with enthusiastic supporters, but that didn’t translate into votes for Rosendale. Fourteen percent of those who reported voting for Trump in 2016 voted for the Democratic incumbent, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters in Montana.
In particular, 20 percent of women who voted for Trump said they were supporting Tester, compared with 8 percent of men who voted for Trump.
Many women who voted for Tester in this election cited health care as a top issue of concern, according to the survey. But it may also have come down to voters liking Tester more than Rosendale, Montana State University political scientist David Parker said.
“Matt Rosendale never developed a positive message about why people should vote for him, distinct from the Trump message,” Parker said Thursday. “They like Jon Tester.”
Nearly all people who identified themselves as Democrats stuck with Tester in a year that saw the highest turnout for a midterm election since the early 1990s. Tester also did well with independents, getting the support of nearly two-thirds of them.
The survey showed that these gains for Tester did not trickle down to Democratic House candidate Kathleen Williams. Williams did not see the same support from women who voted for Trump in 2016 – 9 percent of them supported Williams.
“Gianforte has gotten to be pretty darn well known at this point,” Parker said. “There’s probably a number of people who went to the polls who knew Greg Gianforte and didn’t know Kathleen Williams.”
Trump weighed heavily on a lot of Montana voters’ minds in the midterms, and the survey showed they have mixed feelings about the president.
About half of voters approve of Trump, and majorities said he’s a strong leader, he stands up for what he believe in and he’s bringing needed change to the government. But majorities also said they think he does not have the right temperament to effectively serve as president and that he’s not honest or trustworthy.
AP VoteCast is an innovative survey of more than 115,000 voters nationwide, including 2,667 voters in Montana, conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.