Among the crowd of veterans and union members who came to hear Sen. Jon Tester at a Missoula County Courthouse rally on Wednesday, one white-haired man stood out.
“We’ve got a guy who’s good from the ground up,” former Sen. John Melcher told the roughly 75 people on the corner of Broadway and Ryman Street. “In Jon and Max Baucus, we’ve got two of the best Democratic senators in Congress.”
The 88-year-old Melcher served four terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the Senate before losing to Republican Conrad Burns in 1988. Tester beat Burns in 2006 by 3,562 votes. This year, he’s challenged by six-term Rep. Denny Rehberg.
“I know my race is going to be close,” Tester said. “It’s going to be about getting people out to vote. If we get the folks out, we can do it.”
Tester told the audience he’d worked to increase services for military veterans, including the additions or expansions of 10 veterans’ medical facilities in Montana.
“The reason everyone has the opportunity to vote is thanks to the sacrifices of people like you veterans,” he told the audience.
Alex Taft, a Navy lieutenant and aviator who wore his patch-decorated flight jacket to the rally, said he wanted Tester to extend those services nationwide.
“I have VA (Veterans Affairs) health care and I think it’s wonderful,” Taft said. “It’s the same as Obamacare. And I think the rest of the country needs the same kind of service I get.”
Several in the crowd wore bright yellow T-shirts declaring their membership in the Northwest Carpenters Union.
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“I think Jon Tester’s been a very effective senator,” said union member John Little. “He brought stimulus money to the state, and that’s meant jobs. He’s a working guy who understands people who work with their hands. That’s important to us.”
Tester also reached out to senior citizens, criticizing Rehberg for allegedly proposing to turn Medicare into a voucher program and wanting “to change Social Security as we know it.”
Rehberg spokesman Chris Bond took issue with those claims, saying Rehberg had voted against Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicare changes in the federal budget two times. He also said Rehberg did not support privatizing Social Security.
“Senator Tester is on track to lose his job, and with just 13 days to go he’s becoming increasingly desperate and is resorting to the old Washington political playbook of trying to scare seniors,” Bond said in an email. “Unlike Senator Tester, Denny has stood up to Democrats and Republicans in order to protect Social Security and Medicare, such as opposing President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, opposing Republican attempts to change Medicare, and voting against Tester and Obama’s $716 billion in Medicare cuts that they passed as part of Obamacare.”
Bond also noted Rehberg worked with Baucus to expand mental health treatment services for veterans, supported increased funding for traumatic brain injury research and was leading a fight to preserve a statue of Jesus on the Whitefish Mountain Resort dedicated to war veterans.
Tester said he planned to hit as many cities and towns as he could in the final 13 days before the election. The Missoula gathering lasted about 20 minutes.
“You’ve got to talk about what we’ve done for veterans, seniors, sportsmen and women,” he said of his final days’ strategy. “I think we’ve got a good record to run on.”