HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has a message for the Republican Senate candidates who have bashed him in recent public appearances: Focus on your primary election first, then get ready to “arm wrestle.”
The two-term Democrat made his comments Thursday to reporters in Helena, in answer to a question about his potential opponents’ criticism of his leadership on veterans’ issues.
“I think what they really need to focus on is getting through a June election, and then we can get down to it, start to arm wrestle,” Tester said.
Businessman Troy Downing, former District Judge Russ Fagg, state Sen. Al Olszewski and State Auditor Matt Rosendale are competing for the Republican nomination. The primary is June 5.
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In two debates over the past two weeks, they spent much of their time criticizing Tester, particularly over continuing problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tester is the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the VA, and his campaign so far has touted veterans legislation that he has sponsored and President Donald Trump has signed.
“The Veterans Administration has done a deplorable job taking care of our vets and Jon Tester has had a front seat on the Veterans Affairs committee and he has done little to nothing about it,” Rosendale said in a March 22 debate in Bozeman.
Tester is seeking a third term in a state that has voted increasingly Republican over the last few election cycles. He is one of 10 Democratic senators defending his seat in a state won by Trump in 2016.
But Tester said that he has been focused on his work in the Senate, not on the campaign, even though he has already released two campaign ads.
He said he expects a repeat of his 2006 and 2012 campaigns, when his opponents tried to paint him as something that he’s not.
“I can only control what I can do,” he said.
Two Green Party candidates and a Libertarian candidate are also running for Tester’s Senate seat.