This is an unbiased comparison of the policies and positions of Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg, candidates for the senate seat in Montana.

Result: Tester defeated Rehberg to win re-election.

In one of the closest senate races of the year, incumbent US senator from Montana, Jon Tester (Democrat), fended off a challenge from Republican Denny Rehberg in the 2012 United States Senate election in Montana. Congressman Rehberg was the incumbent U.S. Republican Representative for Montana's at-large congressional district for six terms, serving since 2001. Tester was first elected to the U.S Senate from Montana in 2006.

Rehberg is a fifth-generation rancher and Tester is a third-generation farmer. Given how close the race was and the fact that it could have determined which party controls the Senate, an unprecedented amount of money flowed into the this race.[1]

Comparison chart

Denny Rehberg versus Jon Tester comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartDenny RehbergJon Tester
  • current rating is 3.15/5
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(94 ratings)
  • current rating is 3.38/5
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(110 ratings)
Denny RehbergJon Tester
Position on Environmental Issues Rehberg voted against the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 and the Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) Act of 2001. He is currently one of the foremost critics on keeping the Gray Wolf on the endangered species list. Strong supporter of alternative energy, voting to increase wind and solar power funding and decrease emissions; supports the Kyoto Protocol
Position on Abortion Against abortion; supports Stem Cell Research Tester is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem cell research
Position on Healthcare Opposes changes to Medicare and voted against Obamacare; pushed for fair Medicare reimbursement rates for frontier states Voted to increase funding for Medicare and SCHIP; supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010
Position on Gun Control Pro-gun rights voting record Supports Second Amendment
Position on Gay Rights Opposes gay marriage, and supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; voted against the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 Has spoken against gay marriage and flag burning, but sees Constitutional bans on each issue as unnecessary; Voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010
Current position U.S. Representative for Montana's At-large congressional district, serving since 2001 Junior United States Senator for Montana, serving since 2007
Religion Episcopalian Church of God (Anderson)
Occupation Rancher Organic Farmer
Date of birth October 5, 1955 August 21, 1956
Position on the Economy Proposes reduced government spending; supported extension of the Payroll Tax relief; voted against The Path to Prosperity; opposes all taxpayer funded bailouts Supports middle class tax cuts and supports taxing rich; supported increased funding for public education and cutting taxes for small business owners and the working poor; backs the banking industry’s position on debit card fees
Full name Dennis R. Rehberg R. Jon Tester
Place of birth Billings, Montana Havre, Montana
Spouse Jan Rehberg Sharla Tester
Children A.J. Rehberg, Katie Rehberg, Elsie Rehberg Christine Tester, Shon Tester
Alma mater Washington State University University of Great Falls (B.S.)
Political party Republican Democratic
Residence Billings, Montana Big Sandy, Montana
Position on Iraq Voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 that started the Iraq War; in 2007, voted against the Mandatory Troop Rest Periods between Deployments to Iraq bill Critical of President Bush on Iraq war; supports troops withdrawal
Position on Education Views free school lunch program as burden on taxpayers Advocates increased funding for public education.
Logo of Republican(Elephant) and Democratic (Donkey) parties
Logo of Republican(Elephant) and Democratic (Donkey) parties

Policy Differences

Campaign poster
Campaign poster

Economic Policy

Rehberg supported President Obama’s administration’s year-long extension of the Payroll Tax relief. He chaired the Drought Advisory Committee and the Task Force credited with reforming Worker’s Compensation, the Montana Rural Development Council, and several health care initiatives. On April 15, 2011, Rehberg was one of four Republican members of congress to vote against The Path to Prosperity, the Republican Party's budget proposal for the year 2012. Rehberg opposes all taxpayer funded bailouts. He holds these bailouts largely responsible for the housing market meltdown. He voted Yes on terminating the Home Affordable Mortgage Program in March 2011; voted Yes on $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending in Jul 2009; voted No on modifying bankruptcy rules to avoid mortgage foreclosures in Mar 2009; and voted No on additional $825 billion for economic recovery package in Jan 2009;

Tester backs the banking industry’s position on debit card fees; he argues the lower fees will hurt small community banks, despite an exemption for small banks written into the law. He argues the community banks won't be able to compete when big banks start charging less.

Tester supports middle class tax cuts. He has voted against repealing the Estate Tax and Alternative Minimum Tax, policies he sees as favoring only the wealthy. Voted No on increasing tax rate for people earning over $1 million in Mar 2008; voted No on allowing AMT reduction without budget offset in Mar 2008; voted No on raising the Death Tax exemption to $5M from $1M in Feb 2008; voted No on repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax in Mar 2007; and also voted No on raising estate tax exemption to $5 million in Mar 2007.

While serving as Senate President, Tester supported increased funding for public education and cutting taxes for small business owners and the working poor. He also worked to make health insurance more affordable and require public utilities to use more renewable energy.

He opposes privatization of Social Security. He voted Yes on extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks in Nov 2008; and voted Yes on increasing minimum wage to $7.25 in Feb 2007;

Both candidates say they oppose increasing the nation's debt but both have voted several times to raise the debt ceiling.[2]

President Obama's Tax Proposal

In July 2012, President Obama urged Congress to renew Bush-era tax cuts for households earning $250,000 a year or less. Rehberg and most Republicans want to renew the tax cuts for all income levels, not just those earning less than $250,000. Tester has not yet taken a position on the issue.[3] There is speculation he may not support it.

Estate Taxes

In the third debate, the two candidates were asked about their views on the estate tax. Jon Tester said he would exempt all farms, ranches and small businesses from the estate tax. Rehberg said he wanted to eliminate the estate tax for all businesses.

Banking Industry

The banking industry considers Tester a "reliable ally" and a moderate, but also characterizes him as a Democrat who supported the Dodd-Frank bill. They say Rehberg, as a conservative Republican, would help repeal the bill.

Voting Record

A voting database maintained by the Washington Post showed Rehberg has voted with Republicans 93 percent of the time, while Tester voted with the Democrats 91 percent of the time.[4]

Education Policy

Rehberg views free school lunch program as a program where there was potential of taxpayers being ripped off.

Tester advocates increased funding for public education.

Environmental Issues and Energy Policy

Rehberg voted against the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 and against the Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) Act of 2001. He is currently one of the foremost critics on keeping the Gray Wolf on the endangered species list.

On environmental issues, Rehberg got a rating of 8% by Environment America in 2008, and 27% in 2009. Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund gave him a 13% rating. In his position statement on Economic Development, he said “Our coal and natural gas reserves stretch for hundreds of years into the future, and we can turn them into much needed energy.”

Tester is a strong supporter of alternative energy, voting to increase wind and solar power funding and decrease emissions. He states that the Kyoto Protocol needs American support in order to have global legitimization.

He advanced his plan in the Senate a compromise between the flagging timber industry and environmentalists that aims to mandate more logging while also increasing wilderness area.

Rehberg has indicated he supports Republican efforts to "ease regulations and constrain the ability to force more environmental oversight with legal challenges." Tester has criticized the Republican for continuing to support tax breaks for the oil industry.[5] Tester has, however, sided with Republicans on some notable issues, such as voting in favor of the Keystone pipeline and for repealing ethanol subsidies. Rehberg has also introduced a bill, which Tester supports, to get work started on the Keystone XL pipeline.[6]

Both candidates support extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for successful wind energy development.[7]

Read a detailed comparison of their energy and environmental policies on Key excerpts:

Energy-related individuals and groups had contributed at least $632,000 to Tester's campaign, or 11 percent of the money he’s raised. These same energy interests also gave $170,000 to Tester, or less than 2 percent of his total.
Rehberg says energy interests support him because he believes in a “balanced, true, all-of-the-above energy solution” that recognizes that oil, gas, coal and renewable power should all be part of America’s energy mix. Tester says he, too, supports the “all of the above” energy approach, but, unlike Rehberg, is an advocate for strong air and water protections, which are also important to Montanans, and sometimes opposes the fossil-fuel industry, such as voting against extending tax breaks for large oil companies.
Rehberg has a 96 percent career rating by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, while Tester’s rating is 13 percent. Votes for IPAA’s position include prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, allowing offshore oil leasing, opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Tester has a career rating of 86 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, while Rehberg’s is only 5 percent. Votes for LCV’s position include stopping regulatory rollbacks, ending ethanol subsidies, stopping a bill that would block regulation of global-warming emissions, and increasing fuel economy.
[Executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association Dave] Galt said while Tester voted for the Keystone XL pipeline, he also voted for a bill that would have prohibited exporting products refined from that oil, a position the industry opposes.


Rehberg opposed Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan in 2011 and again in 2012 because it proposes to transform Medicare. In March 2012, he was one of 10 Republicans who voted "no" on the GOP leadership's budget proposal, saying he couldn’t support a proposal that might put the Medicare program in jeopardy. Rehberg also voted against the healthcare reform bill (aka Obamacare) and favors its repeal.Tester's campaign anticipated this vote, and charged that it's irresponsible for Rehberg to be against both the GOP blueprint and the president's budget.[8][9]

Tester has voted to increase funding for Medicare and SCHIP. Tester supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, voting for it in December 2009. Tester voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

Rehberg voted to repeal a 2.3% excise tax on medical devices that is scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and was part of the Affordable Care Act. The tax will be levied on gross sales of more than $5 million by a medical-device company, and is expected to raise about $3 billion a year to fund the healthcare overhaul. Tester has not expressed an opinion on the tax but senate Democrats have refused to consider the bill for a vote.

Read more about Tester and Rehberg's opposing ideas on healthcare here.


In July 2012, Denny Rehberg, the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on health, voted to advance legislation to repeal the "contraception mandate" in the 2009 healthcare reform bill that requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover contraception. Tester's campaign criticized Rehberg for this move.[10]

Rural post offices

Tester orchestrated amendments to a U.S. Postal Service reform bill, which keeps 85 rural Montana post offices open for at least another year. The 500-member Montana Postal Workers Union has endorsed Tester. Rehberg has been accused of wanting to privatize postal services but his campaign has denied the allegation and said that Rehberg is open to some rural post offices sharing space with other businesses. Rehberg has said he wants to find "workable solutions that empower the Postal Service to address the full spectrum of their challenges and not just kick the can down the road".[11]

Position on Iraq War

Rehberg voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 that started the Iraq War. Rehberg currently serves on the Military Quality of Life and Foreign Operations Subcommittees of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. In 2007, he voted against the Mandatory Troop Rest Periods between Deployments to Iraq bill (creates a mandatory rest period between deployments to Iraq for members of the Armed Forces, passed) and against the Redeployment from Iraq Act (reduces the presence of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq by April 1, 2008, passed). In 2002, he voted for the Joint Resolution on the Use of Military Force Against Iraq (adopted).

Tester is critical of President Bush on the Iraq war and supported the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Gun Control

Both candidates oppose gun control measures. Rehberg included language in a federal spending bill to block the tracking of gun purchases in border states. His provision would withhold federal funding needed by the ATF to implement a new Obama administration program requiring licensed firearms dealers in four border States to report information on the sale of multiple rifles or shotguns to the same person. The White House believes the requirement would help address the problem of illegal gun trafficking along the Southwest Border and in Mexico.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both D-Mont., also oppose the requirement. The two have co-sponsored a bill that also would withhold funding from the program. So Tester's position on this is not different from Rehberg.[12]

Campaign Spending Disclosures

Tester supports the Disclose Act, a bill that would require special-interest groups that spend money trying to influence congressional and presidential elections to report any spending over $10,000 within 24 hours, and to name their top donors. Rehberg opposes the bill; his campaign has said Rehberg is concerned the bill would make it "unnecessarily difficult to engage in political speech," [13] He also said the act ensures “target speech suppression” while Democrats “blow a kiss to the unions.”

The Democrat-sponsored bill is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case that allows unlimited political spending noting that it is a form of free speech. Republicans have criticized it for, among other reasons, exempting labor unions from the same disclosure requirements that apply to federal nonprofits.[14]

Air Force plans and movement of planes

Tester has been working with Montana's other US Senator - Max Baucus - to transfer eight C-130 Hercules transport planes from Fort Worth, Texas, to Great Falls, Mont., to help soften the blow of the Air Force pulling F-15 fighters out of Montana. There has been heavy resistance to their plans from Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.[15]

Rehberg has filed an amendment to a defense authorization bill to prevent the transfer of Montana Air National Guard's F-15s from Great Falls, Montana to California.[16]

Corruption and Earmarks

Tester and Rehberg both co-sponsored earmarks for three former clients of the lobbying firm where Rehberg's son is an executive. Both candidates have taken heat for their ties to lobbyists: Liberals have thumped Rehberg for criticizing lobbyists while his son works for a lobbying firm. And Rehberg has criticized Tester for accepting more campaign cash from lobbyists this year than any other member of Congress, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) -- Rehberg himself is No. 10 on the list.[17]

Intra-party challenges

Jon Tester did not have a Democratic challenger in the 2012 senate election. Rehberg, on the other hand, faced a challenge from Dennis Teske, a 61-year old farmer who said that "Rehberg is no different from Tester".


First Debate

The first debate was held on June 16 at the Montana Newspaper Association convention in Big Sky. Here's a video:

Several differences between the incumbent and challenger were highlighted during the debate. On healthcare, Rehberg called the 2010 reform a "job-killing law" while Tester supported it saying the healthcare system was broken and the new law provides insurance to millions of people who would otherwise be uninsured. Rehberg proposed exploring medical tort reform and allowing small businesses to pool resources to reduce insurance premiums.

Rehberg tried to tie Tester to President Obama, saying that Tester votes with his party on all major issues. Tester portrayed himself as willing to buck his party on issues important to Montanans by saying that he often disagrees with the president – on the bailout of auto companies, wolf management, youth-labor regulation on farms – but that he’s been part of cutting taxes for the middle class by billions of dollars and supporting cuts in some spending programs, as proposed by the president.

Tester and Rehberg also differed on Citizens United, a US Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate money spent on elections. Tester said it puts democracy at risk and "corporations are not people". Rehberg supported the decision and said unlimited money should be allowed as long as it is disclosed.

The candidates agreed that the USPS should not immediately close 85 rural post offices in Montana. Tester proposed cutting salaries for top postal executives.

The otherwise civil debate took a personal turn in the closing minutes as Tester questioned Rehberg's credentials as a rancher. Rehberg and his wife have made tens of millions of dollars subdividing and selling pieces of their Billings ranch for housing developments. "Farming and agriculture is part of my blood," said Tester. "Building houses and mansion ranching is not ranching." Rehberg said after the debate that he was leasing his ranch but still plays a role in the operation.[18]

See annotated debate highlights here.

Second Debate

The second debate was set for June 24 at a Montana Broadcasters Association event in Whitefish. Rehberg has pulled out of the debate and Tester has criticized him for doing so.

The second debate that actually occurred was held on October 8, 2012. Here's the full video of the debate:

Third Debate

The third debate was held on October 20. The analysis is available here and here.


There is a lot of money (including from outside Montana) that has been poured into this senate race. This includes money from Karl Rove's PAC American Crossroads.[19]

Both candidates have largely partisan voting records but have tried to portray themselves as independent thinkers. One Rehberg ad criticized the Republican (Paul Ryan) plan to overhaul Medicare and praised Rehberg for voting against it. Editors at the conservative Wall Street Journal did not like the ad and criticized Rehberg for it, noting that Rehberg is more conservative than 81% of the House and voted along Republican party lines over 90% of the time in all years except two.[20]

Tester vs Rehberg in Opinion Polls

Poll source Date(s)
Jon Tester (D) Denny Rehberg (R)
Public Policy Polling October 8–10, 2012 45% 43%
MSU October 9, 2012 40% 43%
Mason-Dixon September 17-19, 2012 45% 48%
Public Policy Polling September 10-11, 2012 45% 43%
Rasmussen Reports August 20, 2012 43% 47%
Rasmussen Reports Jun 18, 2012 47% 49%
Rasmussen Reports May 2, 2012 43% 53%
Public Policy Polling Apr. 26-29, 2012 48% 43%
Rasmussen Reports Apr. 2, 2012 44% 47%
Rasmussen Reports February 22, 2012 44% 47%
Public Policy Polling January 25-30, 2012 45% 47%
Public Policy Polling November 28-30, 2011 45% 47%
Public Policy Polling June 16-19, 2011 45% 47%
Mason-Dixon March 14-16, 2011 46% 45%
Public Policy Polling November 10-13, 2010 46% 48%


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