HELENA — In a game of political one-upmanship Tuesday, the top two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Tester and John Morrison unveiled dueling lists of their respective endorsements.
Tester started the ball rolling by announcing former U.S. Sen. John Melcher has switched allegiances and now backs him. Melcher was a two-term senator who Republican Sen. Conrad Burns unseated in 1988.
Melcher gave $250 in mid-July last year to Morrison, who had worked as one of his Senate aides in 1987-88. Melcher hadn't donated any money to Tester through March 31, records show.
"Jon Tester is Montana from the ground up," said a letter from Melcher read at a Democratic Party dinner in Great Falls Saturday night and released Tuesday. "I like him, I support him. I'm voting Tester. I ask you to support him, too."
Tester, who is president of the Montana Senate, also released a letter with 46 of the 77 current Democratic state senators and representatives, or 60 percent, endorsing him. It includes other top Democrat leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Jon Ellingson of Missoula and House Democratic Leader Dave Wanzenried, both of Missoula.
Tester has the backing of two Democratic public service commissioners, Chairman Greg Jergeson of Chinook and Bob Raney of Livingston.
Summing up his endorsements, Tester said, "These are folks I've worked with at the Capitol in Helena and listened to voters with in every corner of the state. Their help demonstrates our broad support and that we're gaining momentum."
Meanwhile, Morrison, who is state auditor, countered by releasing his own list of backers. It included Donna Metcalf, wife of the late U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf. She has been a Democratic icon and active in environmental groups.
"I am deeply grateful for the support of so many Montanans and people from all across this country,' Morrison said. "With their support, I look forward to beating Conrad Burns and going to Washington to always put Montana first."
Prominent out-of-state endorsements that Morrison received include those from former U.S. Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Bill Bradley of New Jersey, and former Rep. Pat Schroeder of Colorado.
Twenty-nine current and former county Democratic chairmen and chairmen from around the state support Morrison.
His endorsement list included 10 of the 77 Democratic legislators, or 13 percent, including House Speaker Gary Matthews of Miles City. However, both Morrison and Tester count these three Butte legislators as supporters: Reps. George Groesbeck, Art Noonan and Jon Sesso.
Morrison's endorsement list includes James Steele Jr., chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council.
Mayors Ron Tussing of Billings, Jim Smith of Helena and Pam Kennedy of Great Falls favor Morrison. Sheriffs John Walsh of Butte-Silver Bow, Jim Cashell of Gallatin, Dave Castle of Cascade and Chuck Maxwell of Yellowstone counties support him.
Morrison has the backing of two veterans' leaders, John W. Mahan and Thomas A. Pouliot, both national commanders in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who are from Helena.