WASHINGTON – When Sen. Jon Tester takes a break from his senatorial duties in Washington, D.C., it’s often not really a break – it’s off to the campaign office, to make some fundraising calls.
Tester, a Democrat, is facing a stiff challenge this year from Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, in one of the nation’s most-watched Senate races, which makes it a magnet for money.
On this March afternoon in Washington, Tester leaves his Senate office at 4 p.m. and is dropped off at his campaign office, a tiny, cluttered room on the second floor of a townhouse not far from Union Station.
Tester has raised more than $7 million for his re-election campaign so far, and much of it comes from Tester himself dialing up supporters and inviting them to fundraising events. Rehberg no doubt is doing the same, having raised $4.5 million for his Senate campaign.
Four campaign staffers and Tester’s chief-of-staff, Tom Lopach, are at work in the campaign office, including one who hands Tester a list of Bozeman-area supporters to invite to an April fundraiser at the Baxter Hotel in downtown Bozeman.
She also provides a Diet Coke and some peanut M&Ms for the senator.
If no one answers the call, Tester leaves a message: “I just want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me in the past. If you can make it, that would be great.”
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For those he reaches, Tester chats briefly about the campaign.
“Yes, it’s going to be a long little race,” he says to one supporter. “We’ll look forward to seeing you there, man!”
Lopach sits on a couch, methodically going through a list of political action committees and unions, calling each one with his mobile phone and asking if they might give a few thousand dollars to the Montana Democratic Party, to help the campaign.
Tester will make fundraising calls until almost 5:30 p.m., when he’s due back at the Capitol for the day’s Senate votes. That evening, he’s due at a fundraiser in town, hosted by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
Rehberg also had a private fundraiser scheduled in Washington the next day, but canceled when he learned the House would adjourn early enough to allow him to fly home for the Easter break.
As Tester prepares to dial another supporter, he reminds himself about another call he has to make.
“I gotta call my daughter (Christine),” he says. “It’s her birthday today.”