Skip to content
Sign up to receive our free weekday morning edition, and you'll never miss a scoop.
Tester and Brown face tough elections sharing a ticket with Biden and Trump.

Tester, Brown say Biden won’t drag them down

If Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) have any hope of winning reelection in their red states, they’ll need to outrun President Joe Biden by massive margins.

Both are convinced they can. But that’s easier said than done.

Relying on a mix of key issues and their own long-standing records back home, Tester and Brown believe they can still triumph even though former President Donald Trump is likely to win big in both Montana and Ohio.

In an interview, Tester — the most endangered Senate Democrat — said it doesn’t matter how large Trump’s margin of victory is on Election Day. The three-term incumbent proclaimed he can outrun Biden by “unlimited amounts.”

“The reason is because I’ve got my own brand. I’m not running [Biden’s] race,” Tester told us. “Joe’s going to run his own race. Trump’s going to run his own race… Bottom line is, we’re going to do what’s right for Montana.”

It won’t be that simple. For one, Trump will win Montana and Ohio handily. Republicans also see ticket-splitting as a much rarer phenomenon in 2024 than it once was. And most importantly, when Tester and Brown were last on the ballot, it wasn’t a presidential year and they both faced deeply flawed challengers.

“Neither Jon Tester nor Sherrod Brown have been on the ballot with President Trump, who will win Montana by probably close to 20 points. He’ll probably win Ohio by close to 10 points,” NRSC Chair Steve Daines said. “There is less ticket-splitting going on.”

Trump carried Montana by 20 points in 2016, and by 16 points in 2020. A poll from The Hill and Emerson College had Trump up by a similar margin in early March. Tester, however, was up by two points over likely Republican opponent Tim Sheehy.

The party primaries are June 4. Tester and Sheehy are scheduled to have their first debate on June 9.

Tester is playing up his deep Montana roots, the tens of millions of dollars in federal funds he’s steered back home and his positions on abortion, affordable housing, Social Security and veterans’ care. Sheehy is relying on his support from Trump, his military record and the fact that he’s a novice running for political office for the first time.

Yet Tester’s other big problem will be the tsunami of TV ads between now and November. There’s already $120 million worth of ads from both sides reserved for the Montana Senate race, a mind-blowing figure for a state of just 1.1 million people.

Dems plot long-shot: The Democratic leadership’s strategy to boost vulnerable incumbents like Tester and Brown involves highlighting Republicans’ rejection of the bipartisan border security deal earlier this year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer keeps hinting he’ll bring it up for a vote. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is reintroducing the package as a standalone bill in advance of a potential vote.

“The American people need to see that Democrats want to solve the problem and Republicans are unwilling to actually take any action to back up their rhetoric,” DSCC Chair Gary Peters said.

Tester has leaned into the issue, announcing his support last week for a GOP immigration bill he previously voted against as part of the FY2024 spending fight. Voting in favor would have tanked the funding bill.

Here’s what Tester said when we noted that this is all — obviously — about election-year politics:

Republicans say they’re not concerned about Schumer’s moves. Senate Minority Whip John Thune said Democrats’ strategy won’t work because the politics surrounding border security is already “baked in.”

For his part, Brown said “we ought to pass” the border security bill and “it’s for the pundits to judge” whether it helps him politically.

Trump won Ohio by eight points in both 2016 and 2020. This year isn’t likely to be much different. The few polls in the Buckeye State show Trump winning by an average of 10 points. Bernie Moreno, Brown’s GOP opponent, got through a hard-fought primary with Trump’s help. Brown is up in the few polls in that race.

Brown — a populist in his own right — has leaned on other issues as well to show independence from his party. Earlier this month, Brown criticized the Biden administration’s new rules for electric vehicle tax credits. Brown also said the administration’s announcement this week on China tariffs didn’t go far enough. And he’s among the most pro-union and anti-corporate Democrats on the Hill.

News: Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) are leading a group of House Democrats urging Speaker Mike Johnson to reconsider his decision not to invite Kenyan President William Ruto to address Congress. Here’s the letter.

— Andrew Desiderio, John Bresnahan and Max Cohen

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

It’s taking the IRS years to process a small business tax credit. 1M+ small business owners who filed for the Employee Retention Credit are stuck in backlog or waiting on payment for their claims. Tell the IRS to lift the moratorium now.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.