In fairness, I think both Tester and Morrison are good Democrats. But, as I saw when I was at Tester's announcement speech last year, and I learned in talking with Tester during the campaign, this is a guy who clearly and unabashedly represents the populist wing of his party (I publicly stayed out of the primary out of deference to the state party that didn't want to further enflame the already divisive primary battle). His victory will likely send yet more shockwaves through Washington's increasingly insulated Democratic Establishment in Washington.
That Establishment has either refused to take basic, concrete positions on the key issues of the day like Iraq, or worse, has high-profile factions publicly insulting middle-class voters, such as when former Clintonites on Wall Street insulted those Democrats who are trying to reform America's sellout trade policy.
But as I have written before, Tester - and other successful Democrats running this year - are doing exactly the opposite. Back in November, I noted how Tester rejected Washington's advice, and took a strong position on the Iraq War. A few weeks back, I also noted how on critical economic issues like trade. These are positions that put him squarely at odds with the national Democratic Party and the Big Money interests that control Washington, but that put him in sync with voters in Montana and throughout the heartland. Put another way, he made the fight against Big Money's hostile takeover of our government a central theme in his legislative career and in his primary campaign - and he was, to the great shock of Washington insiders, handsomely rewarded by voters.
Secondly, the era of television advertising totally and completely dominating politics is over, at least in primaries in smaller states. In such races, candidates can meet almost everyone who is going to cast a vote. That means retail politics, field, free media, online organizing and word of mouth become priceless. Early on in this primary, I praised Tester in the American Prospect for seriously embracing the netroots and painting a contrast between himself, the outsider, and his opponent, more of an insider. Over the course of the next many months, he took that to the next level.
This means that in the future, as the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party (and by extension against the hostile takeover of our government by Big Money interests) rages on between populists and elitists, small-state primaries are going to be the high-profile battlegrounds where our side - the small "d" democrats in the Democratic Party - are going to crash the gates.
Tonight is a terrible night for Conrad Burns, not only because one of his primary challengers got almost a quarter of GOP votes, but because Democrats now have Jon Tester carrying the flag against him. Burns barely eeked out a victory last time against Schweitzer - then an unknown first-time candidate. Now, severely damaged by his connections to high-profile corruption scandals, Burns is facing a Schweitzer-style populist - but one who is better-known than Schweitzer was during his dark horse Senate bid in 2000. It's Tester Time - and that means Burns' days in the Senate are numbered.