Montana Senate candidates will skip parties' conventions

Both Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) will skip their parties’ upcoming national conventions, their campaigns told The Hill on Monday, in order to concentrate on their Senate race.

A campaign spokesman said Rehberg would remain in Montana to focus on his campaign against the freshman senator rather than attend the convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. Tester’s campaign quickly followed suit to say they would skip the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., which is the week after the GOP gathering.

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While a number of vulnerable Democratic incumbents have said they won't attend their party's gathering, Rehberg is the first Republican to take a similar approach.

This is not the only recent example of the six-term congressman bucking his party.

Rehberg was one of only four House Republicans to vote against the GOP budget introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and, in 2008, he voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

The six-term lawmaker recently ran an ad saying he "refused to toe the party line" on such Republican priorities as "Bush's Wall Street bailout," the Central American Free Trade Agreement and "a Republican budget plan that could harm the Medicare program so many of Montana's seniors rely on."

Tester also has touted his independence: running ads emphasizing his farming roots, his work on bipartisan Veterans Affairs legislation and his habit of bringing Montana bison meat back from his farm to Washington, D.C. He also voted against the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

While most vulnerable Republicans have shown less eagerness than Democrats to distance themselves from their party, the moves are a sign both men see utility in touting their independence from their national parties in the Republican-leaning but fiercely conservative state.

The Hill rates this race a "toss-up."

—  This story was updated at 5:34 p.m.