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EXCLUSIVE — Chinese spy balloon now campaign fodder in Montana Senate race
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EXCLUSIVE — Chinese spy balloon now campaign fodder in Montana Senate race

Ep. 123 — Sens. Jon Tester (7-13-2023) & Steve Daines (7-20-2023)
Sen. Jon Tester meets with his Montana constituents outside the US Capitol. Photo: Matt Laslo

Balloon politics are heating up in Montana, again.

This week’s NBC News report that the Chinese spy balloon — which hovered over Montana before being shot down off South Carolina’s coast at the start of the year — “used an American internet provider to communicate” is now campaign fodder in Big Sky Country where a UFC-style cage match is already underway over the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

Tester’s one of the most vulnerable senators on the ballot in 2024, even as Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is chair of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee — the campaign arm of GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans, who are all salivating over the thought of capturing Tester’s blue seat in conservative country.  

In the aftermath of the spy balloon incident, the Biden administration’s response split Tester and Daines this summer, especially when it came to whether the craft relied on US technology.

“Look, they've been good and forthright,” Tester told us in July.

Tester had just sent the administration a letter pressuring officials to keep US tech out of Chinese spies hands.

“I know a lot of this stuff was off the shelf stuff, but if there's any stuff that wasn't off the shelf, to make sure that we have the right export controls,” Tester told us.

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Daines was having none of that.

“Well, somebody in the Biden administration wants it to go away,” Daines told Ask a Pol. “The China spy balloon had components that were from US technology manufacturers — US technology. So there’s a lot more questions regarding the spy balloon, because, of course, it was hovering right over some of the most powerful weapons known to mankind, which are intercontinental ballistic missiles.” 

All that to say, Montana’s two US senators don’t see eye to eye on much these days, but neither of the two men were up to speed on UFO whistleblower David Grusch this summer.

They were, however, in full campaign mode — a mode they’ll be in through November 2024.

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Matt Laslo’s a veteran congressional correspondent, new media prof. & founder of Ask a Pol — a new, people-powered press corps, asking your questions at the Capitol. @Ask_a_Pol (or @askpols).

LISTEN: Ask a Pol exclusive with Jon Tester

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LISTEN: Ask a Pol exclusive w/ Steve Daines

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Below find a rough transcript of Ask a Pol’s interview with Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, slightly edited for clarity.

TRANSCRIPT — Matt Laslo & Jon Tester

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Ask a Pol
Listening to lawmakers with Laslo, UAPs
I cover Congress different. I listen. Learning daily. Even while throwing stones at all the glass houses. This will be a stream of my noteworthy interviews. They're conducted at the US Capitol, if not otherwise noted. Matt Laslo is a veteran congressional reporter, Johns Hopkins University lecturer, fmr. Vice News Tonight/HBO correspondent, etc.