Tester Wins by Breaking the Rules
by Matt Singer
If you were to sit down and write an article about how to win a statewide election in Montana, you would probably think the Tester strategy was suicide.
Tester lost Yellowstone County, albeit narrowly, meaning that we now have two statewide officeholders who failed to carry Billings (the other being Brad Johnson).
Tester didn’t come close to carrying rural Montana. In fact, rural Montana went pretty overwhelmingly for Burns.
Tester didn’t win by carrying senior citizens — regular voters — by a wide margin. In fact, according to exit polls, he narrowly lost them.
Tester won by putting up a huge margin in Missoula County, turning out his base, relying on urban progressives, and young voters.
In other words, despite the biographical similarities, Schweitzer and Tester could not have won two more different campaigns. Schweitzer received 61% of the vote in Missoula, carrying a 13,000 vote margin. Tester received 64% of the vote in Missoula, carrying a nearly 15,000 vote margin — despite lower turnout in 2006. Meanwhile, in a decent example of how small county returns came in, look at Musselshell. Schweitzer pulled 37% of the vote. Tester came in six points lower — at 31%. Similar trends occured all over rural Montana.
So, let’s cut to exit polls. In 2004, Schweitzer did well among male voters, getting by with virtually no gender gap. Tester had one, albeit small. Schweitzer got 52% of young voters. Tester pull 56%. Schweitzer got 69% of the votes of voters over 65. Tester got merely 48%.
Schweitzer posted his best numbers among the working class ($15,000-$30,000 a year in income) with 62% of the vote. Tester drew only 51% of this crowd.
In 2004, Schweitzer won the rural vote 50%-48%. Tester lost it this year 53%-45%. Schweitzer won both “Urban West” and “Eastern Montana” while Brown won “Rural West.” Tester only won the Urban West, won it by a wider margin and its share of the electorate increased.
In other words, Tester just may be the first urban elected official to ever come out of Montana. He got elected with a polarized electorate in a state where a polarized electorate should have helped the Republican. He also made big gains in terms of cementing young Montanans as Democrats — something that Schweitzer has done well since winning election.
Finally, Democratic claims regarding early vote and same-day registration appear to be vindicated. These two changes in election law may very well have changed the fate of this election.
It appears that legislative races did not go as well as we might have hoped, but there are a lot of signs of life in those down ballot races.