ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Sen. Jon Tester is coming out swinging in his reelection race, immediately tying his new Republican opponent to tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann as he makes the case that his rival favors cuts to veterans’ programs.
Montana’s lone House member, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., is expected to announce his candidacy for Senate this weekend, at a party dinner in Montana that will also be attended by Bachmann, R-Minn., the chair of the House Tea Party Caucus.
“November 2012 is a ways away, and we've got a lot of work to do representing the needs of rural America, and Montana, and creating jobs in this country, and we're going to be focused on that,” Tester, D-Mont., said on ABC’s “Top Line” today.
“In the meantime … I look forward to comparing records and talking about how we move this country forward, move rural America forward and being all we can be. But it's kind of interesting the way his campaign has started out. He's going to bring Michele Bachmann to Montana -- that's who he'll be standing beside when he announces.”
“And quite frankly, I’ve got a very, very strong record on veterans, because I think we've got to live up to the promises we made veterans in this country. She's just come out with a proposal to put draconian cuts on the VA. And so it's going to be interesting if that's the kind of campaign we're going to have, where he's talking about cutting the benefits for the people who served this country, many of who are severely disabled. It's going to be an interesting campaign.”
Tester said he’s unfazed by the fact that Rehberg has won statewide races for the House with about 60 percent of the vote, while Tester himself won with barely 49 percent in 2006.
“That's the House. This is the Senate. It's a different ball game,” he said. “It's a different playing field, and I've got a record that I can look at and show with job creation with moving rural America forward in a very, very positive way. And he's got a record too, and we'll have the opportunity to compare those records.”
Tester also said he opposes the push to repeal President Obama’s health care law, though he said is open to ideas to improve it.
“I hope we continue to talk about health care. I think it's critically important,” Tester said. “We passed that bill. It covers folks with preexisting conditions, takes away lifetime caps, puts for small business tax credits -- the list goes on and on and on. So repealing it, I do not think would be wise. But I'm open for any ideas and suggestions on how we can make the health care bill better, and how it can help serve the people of this country better.”
And Tester said he has not heard from Taco Bell about his suggestion that they improve the quality of their embattled meat by using Montana beef.
“If they want to beef up their tacos, they can utilize little Montana beef,” Tester said.
He promised to return to “Top Line” for a taste test if Taco Bell takes his suggestion: “I will just tell you, count me in. I didn't get this physique by not eating tacos.”
Watch the full interview with Sen. Jon Tester HERE.