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Tester raises over $1M in first quarter

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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester reported Thursday that he raised more than $1 million in the first quarter of his heavyweight matchup against U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, more than doubling up his challenger’s figure in the first months of what could be one of the most expensive races in state history. 

Montana’s Republican congressman announced early in the year he would challenge the first-term Democratic senator in 2012. The race may be one of a handful that could determine control of the U.S. Senate, and a recent poll showed Rehberg and Tester about even. 

Rehberg’s challenge to Tester sets up a contest between the undisputed leader of the Montana Republican Party and a populist Democratic senator who in his first term has returned home to work on his Big Sandy farm on weekends. Both parties expect a multimillion-dollar slugfest that is sure to be a marquee race as Republicans try to make more gains around the country. 

Republicans are eyeing Montana, with its history of voting for Republican presidents, as a possible pickup. 

And it is clear Democrats are rallying around Tester, generally well-liked by the rank-and-file for his regular guy demeanor. 

Tester’s campaign reported in the fundraising filings that it raised nearly $1.2 million in the first three months of the year and had shy of $1.5 million on hand. 

Rehberg’s campaign said it raised about $580,000 over the three months, which included about one month of fundraising for the old House seat before he entered the Senate race and transferred that money over. The Rehberg campaign said it raised $361,000 since entering the higher-profile Senate race in February. 

Including leftover from last year, Rehberg was left with about $932,000 in the bank. 

Montana State University political scientist David Parker, who is following the race closely, said Tester’s numbers confirm the race is drawing a lot of interest. 

“It’s a strong and solid report, and it shows he is doing well with his fundraising operation,” Parker said. “Overall, I would say this is a good amount of money.” 

Observers expect the race will break campaign money records in Montana and flood the small media market with political advertising from both campaigns and their outside interest groups. 

In 2006, Tester raised $5.5 million when he upset incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who raised $9.4 million at the time. With 19 months left to Election Day, it appears those figures could look average this time around.

Tester also said Thursday he will be voluntarily submitting his finance report on Friday to the Federal Election Commission for easier public viewing, a move U.S. Senate candidates are not required to make. Tester has legislation pending that would require all Senate candidates to do so. 

Bozeman businessman Steve Daines reported that he added close to $200,000 in the first quarter in his attempt to keep Rehberg’s congressional seat in Republican hands. Daines announced a challenge to Tester last year, only to switch to the U.S. House race when Rehberg announced he was vacating it to challenge Tester. 

In total, Daines has raised more than $400,000. Reports were not immediately available from Franke Wilmer, the one Democrat to so far announce for the race.

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