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Third-degree Burns

"Third-degree Burns" Continued...

Issue: "Too close to call," Oct. 28, 2006

Another man cordially advised that politicians should "quit this negative advertising. You're wasting your money." Tester replied, somewhat dishonestly, "Well, our money's been going toward positive stuff." As the jovial Democrat made his rounds, a woman in a back room paused from sorting vegetables to offer a motherly hug and then scurried off to tell a friend: "I was just hugging Jon Tester." Several others informed Tester they had already cast votes in his favor via absentee ballots.

Tester was similarly received at his next stop, First Presbyterian Church of Billings, a humble facility with a Spam advertisement tacked to the front door. The organic wheat farmer made his way between lunch tables, admiring the rhubarb cake and carrot salad and cracking jokes about his expanding waistline. Several parishioners requested signs and bumper stickers.

Like many Democrats, Tester has made a concerted effort to connect with religious conservatives-and with moderate success. He has sought to broaden the definition of moral values to include such things as health care and renewable energy. That strategy has worked on a national scale: In a recent Newsweek poll, 42 percent of respondents said Democrats do a better job protecting moral values while just 36 percent said Republicans are superior.

"I have done my best to reach out to [values voters] in ways and with issues that impact their families-health care, energy, fiscal responsibility," Tester told WORLD. "That's what government's about, serving folks that need help and providing services that are critical to society."

Tester is a member of the Church of God in his hometown, Big Sandy, Mont. He says his faith and family upbringing have played critical roles in establishing how he views the world. He supports traditional marriage, an issue already settled in Montana. "From a faith standpoint, I can tell you things don't happen by accident," he said. "When you're on the farm, there are a lot of miraculous things that happen every year-from an alfalfa seed sprouting to an incredible plant to livestock and how they're put on the earth to feed people."

Such statements have helped undermine attempts to portray Tester as a far-left-winger. But the populist candidate does not apologize for his position on abortion: "I think it's a decision that should be left to a lady and her doctor and her faith and not to a government official back in Washington D.C.," he said before parroting the line of many Democrats: "We need to do whatever we can do to make abortion safe, legal, and rare."

As Tester walked to his car in the parking lot of First Presbyterian, he told his wife to pet the dogs when she got home and wished her safe travels. The couple of 27 years shared a tender moment as they said goodbye. Sharla Tester has accompanied her husband throughout much of the campaign, her occasional departures confined only to brief and necessary checks on the family's 1,800-acre farm.

Fittingly, the consummate farmer's choice for lunch was a local sandwich shop dubbed Great Grains of Montana. He ordered a ham and Swiss panini and chatted warmly with patrons before taking a seat near the center of the restaurant. A woman approached to offer some unsolicited advice: "I'm concerned about the direction of the campaign," she said. "Just because the other side goes negative, you don't have to. Run your own race." Tester received the rebuke graciously and admitted upon the woman's departure that he has "slipped at that a bit."

Nevertheless, 15 minutes later, Tester was back in the saddle firing shots during an interview with the local NBC television affiliate-accusing Burns of rubberstamping the Bush administration's foreign policies. In a midterm election steeped with bitter anti-Bush sentiment, staying positive is difficult-and likely unnecessary for a meat-and-potatoes Montanan with a gaffe-prone opponent.

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