HELENA -- While Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester have been going at it full-tilt for more than a year in the race for Tester's seat, there is another Republican in the race — and he said he's not just a token candidate.
Dennis Teske, a 61-year-old farmer from Terry, became a surprise entry this January in Montana's highest-profile 2012 election, filing to challenge Rehberg for the party's nomination to run against Tester in the fall.
Republican voters will choose between Rehberg, the six-term congressman, and Teske in the June 5 primary.
Teske has never run for political office before and is largely unknown to Montana voters. Yet the grain and soybean farmer said he's been crisscrossing the state, visiting Republican Party meetings and talking to voters wherever he can, saying it's time for nonpoliticians to take the reins of government and get the nation's fiscal house in order.
"The message I send is that I'm not a career politician," he said in an interview this week. "They've got us in a fix in this country where we're over-regulated and over-taxed. ... It doesn't really matter what the party is anymore; they're spending us into oblivion."
Rehberg, of course, is a heavy favorite in the June 5 primary. He's already raised $4.5 million in campaign funds, had $2.73 million in his campaign account as of March 31, and rarely mentions that he even has a primary opponent.
Rehberg campaign spokesman Chris Bond said this week that Rehberg clearly offers the strongest challenge to Tester, and that beating Tester "will be crucial to bringing about a badly needed change of leadership in the Senate."
Teske has raised less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the money raised by Rehberg — about $4,100, including $2,400 from his own pocket.
Teske said he may buy some radio ads but is certainly running a low-budget campaign, using his website and a Facebook page to reach voters, as well as some old-fashioned shoe leather, traveling Montana to meet people and post the occasional sign.
On Saturday, for instance, he plans to be at a "candidate roundup" at the Plains Bible Chapel in Plains and a Republican Party dinner that evening in Alberton.
"Anybody who wants to listen, we've talked to," Teske said. "We're doing about everything a guy can do."
Teske said he has supported Rehberg in the past but that Rehberg has voted for unconstitutional expansions of government power, like the Patriot Act in 2001, and plenty of government spending.
"We're financially broke as a nation, and nobody seems very alarmed by it," he said.
Teske wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a federal balanced budget and opposes any new taxes. When asked where he'd cut the budget, Teske said he'd start by eliminating the energy and education departments.
Teske was born in Havre and graduated from Chinook High School in 1968. He and his wife, Rita, have owned and operated a trucking business as well as a chain of convenient stores in Wyoming and Washington. They moved back to Montana from the Seattle area about 15 years ago to purchase and run their farm, which is north of the Yellowstone River, between Terry and Fallon.
Teske said he knows he's up against "the big bucks" and long odds, but that he'll talk to as many people as he can — and hope it makes a difference.
"If we can just change the direction our country goes, that will be enough," he said. "I think (the country is) in desperate trouble; that's why we're standing up."