Tim Sheehy, a decorated military veteran and wealthy businessman heavily recruited by national Republican leaders, announced a bid Tuesday to unseat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in a race that will be key next year in determining which party controls the U.S. Senate.

“Whether it was in war or business, I see problems and solve them,” Sheehy said in a statement. “America needs conservative leaders who love our country. I’m running for the U.S. Senate because our campaign is about service, duty, and country — not politics as usual.”

It remains unclear whether Sheehy will have the GOP field to himself. Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.), a conservative lawmaker allied with the anti-tax Club for Growth who lost to Tester in 2018, also is eyeing the race.

Sheehy’s bid, however, was blessed Tuesday by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to recruit and support GOP Senate candidates. In a fundraising solicitation for Sheehy, Daines said he is “100% behind Tim Sheehy” and called him “the only candidate that can defeat Jon Tester next November.”

Sheehy is a former Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient who completed more than 200 missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He is the chief executive of Bridger Aerospace, an aerial firefighting company based in Belgrade, Mont.

In his statement, Sheehy sought to cast Tester, a three-term senator who is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Montana, as out of touch with the heavily Republican-leaning state and as a Washington politician who marches in lockstep with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“Jon Tester has been in office for nearly a quarter of a century and he’s lost sight of our Montana values,” Sheehy said. “He’s supporting Biden and Schumer’s liberal agenda. … Montanans have had enough of these career politicians who are full of empty promises and are not representing our Montana values. It’s time for a new generation of leadership to rebuild America.”

Following Sheehy’s announcement, the Montana Democratic Party highlighted that the Republican is a relative newcomer to the state. Sheehy moved to Montana in 2014 after retiring from the Navy.

“Jon Tester has farm equipment that’s been in Montana longer than Tim Sheehy,” Monica Robinson, senior communications adviser for the Montana Democratic Party, said in a statement. “The last thing Montanans want in a senator is an out-of-state transplant recruited by Mitch McConnell and DC lobbyists.”

Tester announced in February that he would seek a fourth term, bolstering hope among Democrats of holding the seat. Tester said at the time that “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable and I’m running to defend our Montana values.”

Tester, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has a reputation for working across the aisle. He played a key role in negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure bill and legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his 2018 race, Tester defeated Rosendale, then the state auditor, by about 3.5 percentage points. Rosendale was endorsed by President Donald Trump, who carried Montana in 2020 by more than 16 percentage points.

The state is part of a difficult map for Democrats as they seek to maintain control of the Senate.

Twenty-three members of the Democratic caucus are up for reelection in 2024, compared with 11 Republicans. Besides Montana, the GOP-leaning states that Democrats will be defending include Ohio and West Virginia. Democrats also are defending seats in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.

The Democratic Party holds a 51-49 Senate majority, which includes three independent senators — Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Angus King (Maine) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — who caucus with the party.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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