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U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., easily won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Montana Tuesday, setting up his fall showdown with Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester — a race that’s been on full throttle for many months.

Rehberg dispatched little-known challenger Dennis Teske, a grain farmer from Terry, who ran as a conservative alternative to Rehberg.

With about two-thirds of the votes counted late Tuesday night, Rehberg had 76 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, while Teske had 24 percent, trailing by more than 50,000 votes.

Tester, running for re-election to a second term, was unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, winning more than 99 percent of those votes.

Rehberg, 56, thanked Republican voters for the nomination Tuesday night and said the fall election presents a “very clear contrast for voters.”

“Together, Senator Tester and President Obama have spent the last several years pursuing a harmful agenda of higher taxes, record debt, taxpayer-funded bonuses for Wall Street executives and a costly, big-government health care law that Montanans don’t want,” he said in a statement.

“I look forward to a spirited campaign that I’m hopeful will focus on the important issues that will affect Montana’s families, seniors, service-members, small businesses, farmers and ranchers for generations to come.”

Rehberg also challenged Tester to debate him at the Montana Newspaper Association meeting scheduled June 16 in Big Sky.

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The pair already is scheduled to debate June 24 in Whitefish, at the Montana Broadcasters Association meeting.

Two Libertarians also will be on the fall ballot in the U.S. Senate race: Jerry McConnell of Missoula and Dan Cox of Hamilton.

The Rehberg-Tester matchup is one of the top U.S. Senate races in the country, and has already attracted well over $10 million in campaign contributions and spending.

Tester said Tuesday evening the race “is between a farmer who holds himself accountable to Montana and someone who’s made some pretty irresponsible decisions during his 12 years in Congress.”

“Montanans have some very serious concerns about the congressman’s support for the Patriot Act, Real ID and his record of giving special tax loopholes to millionaires — while voting against Montana seniors, veterans and education,” Tester said.

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