Montana Republican warns of Senate challenge to Tester
© Greg Nash

Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke is warning Democrat Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE that he could gun for his Senate seat if Tester refuses to work with the Republican Congress and White House. 

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"Senator Tester is wise enough to make sure his voice is heard in a positive manner to get things done. Just saying no is not going to work," Zinke told the Associated Press.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, is the state's only House member and is the GOP's top potential candidate to challenge Tester in 2018. While he told the AP he hasn't decided on a bid yet, he said he wants to put "pressure" on Tester to keep him from straying too far to the left in the new Congress — specifically on border security and forestry management.

Tester will be one of the handful of Democrats defending a seat in 2018 in a red state. Democratic senators in Montana, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia are all up for reelection next cycle. 

But despite Republican dominance at the top of the ticket in Montana — no Democratic presidential candidate has won in the state since 1992 and Trump just won there by 21 percentage points — it has always had a bipartisan streak down ballot.

Tester has long bucked the Republican trends in his home state. First he won a narrow victory in 2006 to unseat incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, and later he won reelection by 4 points. In 2016, even despite the big Trump win, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock won reelection. 

Marnee Banks, Tester's spokesman, emphasized the senator's commitment to bipartisanship in a statement to The Hill.  

"Jon has a strong record of working with Republicans, Democrats and Independents to honor our nation’s commitment to our veterans, roll back harmful federal regulations on our schools and small businesses, and protect public access to public lands," she said. 
 
"He brings a farmer’s work ethic to the job, holds himself and Washington accountable, and ensures all Montanans have a responsible and effective voice in the Senate."

In all, the Democrats have to defend 23 seats in 2018, as well as two others held by independent allies. By comparison, the GOP must defend just eight seats. 

Updated at 6:51 p.m.