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Tester, Sheehy Have First Debate

In the first debate of Montana’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, Republican challenger Tim Sheehy on Sunday, June 9, repeatedly portrayed America as a country ravaged by problems enabled by Democrats and said he’s part of “new leadership” that can fix things.

“Americans, they don’t have confidence in their government anymore,” he said. “They want to have common sense back. … They want cheap gas, safe streets, boys are boys, girls are girls.”

His opponent, three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, said he’s the real Montanan who understands rural America and has used his influence to help the state, and that it’s wealthy outsiders like Sheehy who are making Montana unaffordable and less livable for the average person.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks come into the state, rich folks, who want to try to buy our state, try to change it into something it’s not,” he said at the debate hosted by the Montana Broadcasters Association at Fairmont Hot Springs near Anaconda. “I’m running for the United States Senate … to keep the Montana that we all know and love.”

Sheehy grew up in Minnesota and moved to Montana 10 years ago.

Both men won their respective primary contests last week, setting up a long-anticipated showdown that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Democrats hold a 51-49 edge in the chamber, but are expected to lose a seat in West Virginia this fall, meaning that a loss of any other Democrat-held seat — such as Tester’s — would hand majority control of the Senate to Republicans for the 2025 Congress.

Both sides have been pouring money into what’s expected to be a $200 million race, shattering state spending records for a single political contest and flooding the airwaves with advertisements.

Libertarian Sid Daoud and Green Party candidate Michael Downey also are on the November ballot for the Montana U.S. Senate contest.

Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, and Sheehy, a U.S. Navy veteran and owner of Bridger Aerospace, an aerial firefighting company in Belgrade, debated for an hour Sunday morning, fielding questions from a panel of four broadcast journalists. The debate was broadcast live on Montana Public Television and will be aired later on various broadcast outlets across the state.

The two men tackled questions on everything from immigration to affordable housing to U.S. defense policy, sometimes agreeing but often not.

Perhaps the sharpest exchange came on abortion, with Tester giving a full-throated defense of women’s right to decide the issue for themselves without government interference.

“This is a decision that should be made by the woman and her family, in consultation with her minister and her doctor,” he said. “This freedom is on the line this election.”

Sheehy said “the vast majority” of Americans oppose taxpayer-funded abortions “up to and including the moment of birth,” which he said Tester and Democrats have voted for.

“That’s barbaric. That’s what China and North Korea do for population control,” Sheehy said. “At some point, the life of the baby does matter.”

“For you to say that we’re killing babies at 40 weeks [of pregnancy] is total B.S.,” Tester shot back. “Nobody’s talking about taxpayer payment for abortions. What we’re talking about is who makes the decision.

“Do you want a politician, or a bureaucrat or a judge to make the decision? If you do, vote for him,” Tester concluded. “If you want the woman to make the decision, vote for me.”

Sheehy frequently attacked the Biden administration and Democrats in Washington, accusing them of causing higher inflation, higher energy prices, a decline in military readiness and a huge influx of illegal immigrants at the southern border.

Tester has supported Biden’s agenda “95% of the time,” Sheehy said.

“Right now, Democrat control of the White House and the Senate has left our nation in the worst position it’s been in for 40 years,” Sheehy said.

Tester sometimes criticized the Biden administration as well, saying it had mostly ignored his advice on regulations that would harm coal development in the state.

But he said the Biden administration and Democrats have passed substantial bills that helped Montana and the nation, such as a multibillion- dollar infrastructure bill, a bill aiding the computer-

chip industry, and another to enable military veterans to get treatment for exposure to battlefield toxins.

Tester also often returned to his accusation that wealthy out-of-staters, like Sheehy, are to blame for many problems facing Montanans, such as unaffordable housing.

“Tim Sheehy is not the solution. He’s part of the problem,” Tester said.

“Well, you heard it again … if you’re not from here, Jon Tester doesn’t think your voice matters, apparently,” Sheehy replied, noting that he had created jobs in the state with his company.

Here’s how the candidates came down on other issues during the debate: Immigration

Sheehy blasted Biden for causing a surge in immigration at the southern border and said the president’s recent actions are “political pandering” with the election approaching. He also called a compromise bill that failed this year “political theater.”

“This is an accident that could have been avoided,” he said of the immigration surge.

Tester said a bipartisan bill would have helped by changing asylum laws and increasing border guards and border technology, but he said it failed because Republicans and former president Donald Trump wanted to keep immigration as an issue in the election.

Ukraine Aid

Tester, who supported the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, said if America wants to be a leader for democracy in the world, it has to support other democracies.

Sheehy, who opposes the aid package, called the bill “a slap in the face to Americans” that sent billions abroad while “we can’t even secure our own border.”


Sheehy, who said his own company has built affordable housing for employees, said the country should take many steps to make housing more affordable: Reduce building regulations, cut inflation, increase building-trade education and “unleash the timber industry.”

Tester said the federal government can take many steps through tax credits and various agencies, such as the Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development departments, to encourage workforce housing.

Veterans Care

Sheehy said he’d give the Veterans Administration a “solid D” for its health care for military veterans, and that the agency should be overhauled. The country is giving more money to immigrants than to veterans, while veterans’ suicide rates remain high, he said.

Tester said taking care of veterans is “an incredibly high priority for me,” and noted his work passing bills to allow veterans to go outside the VA system for care, when necessary, and to receive treatment for exposure to battlefield toxins.

He also said Sheehy has expressed a wish to “purely privatize health care,” meaning that Medicare, Medicaid and the VA health system “goes away.”

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