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HELENA — An Eastern Montana farmer and political unknown entered Montana’s high-profile U.S. Senate race late Wednesday, filing as a Republican to challenge U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester this fall.

Dennis Teske, 61, who’s never run for political office before, said Thursday that Rehberg is no different than Tester when it comes to federal spending and the national debt: They both have supported and overseen huge increases in government spending.

“We’re coming to a crisis in America and we’re going to lose this republic if the spending doesn’t stop,” he said in an interview. “If we’re going to continue to vote for the same people, we’re going to continue going down the same road. ... We’re going to lose (this country) if we vote for either Tester or Rehberg. We’re going to go to the same place.”

Teske operates a grain and bean farm east of Terry, just north of the Yellowstone River.

The battle for Tester’s seat is one of the most-watched Senate contests in the nation, with majority control of the U.S. Senate possibly at stake.

A primary election challenge for either Tester or Rehberg wasn’t expected, making Teske’s entry into the race Wednesday something of a surprise.

Republicans voting in the June 5 primary election will choose between Teske and Rehberg as the GOP nominee to challenge Tester, who so far has no primary challenger.

Rehberg’s campaign welcomed Teske into the race Thursday.

“It’s no surprise to see another Montanan who’s interested in challenging Sen. Tester’s record of 97 percent support for the Obama agenda in Washington,” said Chris Bond, spokesman for the Rehberg campaign.

The Tester campaign also used Teske’s entrance into the contest as an opportunity to say Rehberg supports expansive government powers, referring to Teske’s website statements against the same.

“Jon understands Mr. Teske’s concerns about the erosion of America’s freedoms, which is why Jon opposes Congressman Rehberg’s Patriot Act, REAL ID and his unpopular northern border land-grab bill,” said Tester’s campaign manager, Preston Elliott.

Tester and Rehberg have focused on each other for the past year, frequently taking shots in the press and sharpening the narratives of their respective campaigns.

They’ve also been busy raising money. Tester had $3.1 million in his campaign account as of Sept. 30 and Rehberg had $1.8 million. Their next finance reports are due Jan. 31.

Teske said he’ll certainly accept donations to his campaign but that he won’t be waging an expensive effort.

“I still have to work as a farmer,” he said. “We’re low-budget people.”

Teske has a campaign website — — where he outlines many traditional conservative positions. It says he is “pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-Second Amendment” and that he stands for “more liberty and less regulation.”

On his site, Teske said faith, family and patriotism “have created the greatest nation on earth that God has ever given mankind.” He also refers to the famous quote from former President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

Born in Havre, Teske grew up in Chinook, graduating from Chinook High School in 1969.

He’s been a farmer for 15 years and before that lived in a Seattle suburb for 10 years, where he and his family owned several convenience stores.