“Are you here for the Jon event?” a young volunteer asked me as I arrived.
The Jon event was taking place at lunchtime in late October, in a mid-sized function room on the campus of Montana State University, in the city of Bozeman. MSU was founded as an agricultural college by federal land grant in 1893, four years after Montana joined the Union. It had five male and three female students at the time. Today, it retains an emphasis on the study of the land, with numerous research centers for agricultural and biological sciences, but its 17,000 students are as likely to be preparing for careers in business management. They crisscrossed the campus purposefully on the day of the Jon event, moving between shiny facilities in anoraks and headphones.
MSU was a good symbolic fit for the Jon in question, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Democrat running for a third six-year term in rural, conservative Montana. Tester is a hereditary Montana grain farmer, who returns from Washington D.C. on weekends to work the land homesteaded by his grandparents. While in Washington, he usually votes along party lines. He won both his previous elections without a majority; meanwhile, Donald Trump carried Montana by 20 points in 2016. Like the other Democratic incumbents in strong Trump states, whose re-election fights will determine control of the Senate on Tuesday – Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri – Tester is leaning heavily on his strong personal ties to his state, and his work on local issues that might transcend national politics…