Washington Post: Jon Tester could teach Democrats a lot about rural America — if he can keep his Senate seat
By Ben Terris May 2 at 8:00 AM
BIG SANDY, Mont. — When Sen. Jon Tester was 9 years old, he had a job: take meat from cows slaughtered on his family’s farm and feed it into the steel maw of a meat grinder. The motor took it from there, pushing the beef through four spinning blades and then squeezing it, like toothpaste, out a series of small holes. It was a powerful, dangerous machine, something Tester learned the hard way the day it sliced off three of his fingers.
He doesn’t remember his left hand slipping in but remembers pulling it out. Blood splattered the walls of the butcher shop. Tester pressed his right hand over the wound to stop the bleeding, pushing so hard his bones bore holes into his palm. He was in too much shock to feel pain.
His mother whisked him to their blue 1965 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon and high-tailed it to the closest hospital.
Fortunately, it was only 13 miles away.
“It’s hospitals like that out here in rural America that will close down if we don’t look out for them,” the second-term Democrat said recently from his Montana farm. “If you tack on another 35 miles on that trip, who knows, I could be dead.”
Tester is now 60. He’s close to 300 pounds and sports a flat-top haircut. He works the land his parents and grandparents worked before him. He still uses the same meat grinder.Today, it’s his Democratic Party that’s gravely injured. It lost the White House to Donald Trump, thanks in large part to a rural population that has grown more and more Republican. Next year, when a handful of vulnerable red-staters, including Tester, will be forced to defend their Senate seats, things look as if they might get worse.
Suddenly, a party that has focused on expanding its base to include more women, minorities and young people is looking to a seven-fingered farmer from Montana to help stop the bleeding.
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