Before he arrived at the balloon-decorated Holiday Inn in Great Falls, Montana, for his Election Night watch party, Jon Tester was 80 miles away on his farm in Big Sandy, taking the engine out of his ’86 Chevy pickup.
When the race was finally called on Wednesday morning, the engine still had a blown head gasket—but the 62-year-old farmer and two-term Democratic senator had managed to get his political career to turn over one more time.
The outcome had been far from certain. President Donald Trump, enraged that Tester had derailed his nomination of Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this year, had made unseating the senator a personal project. Polls showed Tester and his opponent, Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale, running neck and neck in the lead-up to Election Day.
Voter registration in Montana was at a record high as people headed to the polls, and turnout has surpassed any midterm showing since at least 1994. Gallatin County, a Democratic stronghold in the mostly Republican state, was among the last to report results. The county clerk and recorder, Charlotte Mills, told Montana Public Radio in an interview nearly two hours after the polls had closed that the line of voters at the courthouse was still stretching out of the building. “It’s been out the door and up the block the entire day,” she said.