Old-fashioned ground game still beats $30 million in mystery money

This election, Republicans spent more than $30 million trying to unseat Jon Tester, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Montana.

All the polls had Jon losing by four to five points. On Tuesday, he ended up winning by 17,000 votes.

What made the difference, I think? People made the difference. People, on the ground. Feet, real feet, on the ground.

Every day for the past two weeks, people from the Tester campaign knocked on our door, making sure we were registered,making sure we were planning to vote. Every campaign person who knocked on our door was from the Tester campaign, except for one person, who was with a state representative’s campaign. Two people knocked on our door and polled us; it turns out it was one of those “internal polls” you hear about.
We had worked on the Tester campaign in 2006 and assured each and every one of them we were registered and planned to vote and planned to vote for Jon.

All the people were polite and smiling. We had young college kids knocking on our door and retired people and schoolteachers.

In those two weeks, not a single person from Republian Denny Rehberg’s campaign knocked on our door. Not one. In fact, the only time Rehberg even came to our town all year was for a $1,000 a plate private fundraiser with Mitt Romney.

Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. House and a notorious drunkard who was involved in an ugly drunken driving boating wreck a couple of years ago,
tried to let all of his money talk for him. Millions upon millions poured into his campaign from shadowy groups being investigated by both the feds and the state, and local TV was peppered with anti-Tester ads, constantly. $30 million worth of ads.

There are worse people in Congress than Rehberg, but he was basically a useless congressman. He had never sponsored any legislation that passed in 12 hours in the U.S. House.

Tester, who, to be fair, received somewhere between $20 million to $25 million from the Democratic party, is a farmer from a tiny town called Big Sandy, where Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament is also from. He’s a real farmer with a real farm. Denny claimed to be a rancher, but his “ranch” was really a 1,000-unit housing development. Tester is one of the largest men in the U.S. Senate — 6-foot-4 and easily weighs 330 pounds. He is also famous for his flattop haircut.

My first foray into politics was in 2006 working on his campaign to unseat an incredibly corrupt Republican, Conrad Burns. I was just out of grad school and was not yet a U.S. citizen but still volunteered for his campaign (and I can attest to the fact that Jon is capable of some rib-cracking bear hugs.)

This year, I was too busy with work and family to join his campaign, but I watched with worry as he trailed in all the polls and was just buried in negative advertising essentially calling him the White Obama.

The funny thing is, I don’t even consider Tester a liberal. He’s a moderate Democrat, a member of the NRA who sponsored legislation allowing guns in national parks, but the Rehberg ads painted him as a roaring socialist.

I don’t agree with all of Tester’s votes, but I knew him as a sincere, honest, gentle bear of a man who genuinely cares. Jon was never in the military, but he decided to take up veterans’ need as his No. 1 priority, and has spent a lot of time and energy working for veterans and working to get them better benefits, etc. Perhaps because Jon lost most of his hand to a farm machinery accident when he was a child, he can relate to what vets go through.

Jon talked a lot this campaign about how much he missed his farm in Big Sandy and how he wouldn’t mind returning to his farm. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t; maybe he was sandbagging Rehberg and his Republican overlords, but he sounded resigned to losing. Instead, he is headed back to D.C. until at least 2018, one of the poorest people in the U.S. Senate and the only real farmer in the Senate.

I think Tester won because he simply outworked the wealthy and overconfident Rehberg. Those volunteers pounding the pavement beat back that $30 million for Rehberg. The election wasn’t called until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Some days, good old fashioned democracy really does still wor

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