The American Indian vote scored some big victories for politicians on election night in America.
In the days leading up to the November 6 election, incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Indian Country Today Media Network that he was relying on the Native American vote to help him defeat challenger GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg.
Just as in 2006, Tester pulled out a close victory, where the margin of votes from reservations in his state likely put him over the edge, according to Native political observers.
American Indian organizers, including Tom Rodgers, a Blackfeet citizen and tribal lobbyist with Carlyle Consulting, worked hard to secure Indian votes, canvassing the state and expressing support for Tester’s efforts on behalf of Indians. Several tribal citizens also filed suit in Montana to have satellite-voting offices opened on reservations—a battle that goes on now that the election has concluded.
“Every vote mattered,” Tester spokeswoman Andrea Telling said when asked whether the Native vote put him over the top.
One state away, Natives are taking credit for the slim margin of victory for Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who defeated Republican Rick Berg in a very close North Dakota Senate race. Her win was a surprise to many national political pundits reflecting on the race.
Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer who previously was a House staffer, said he campaigned with Heitkamp 12 years ago when she ran unsuccessfully for governor of the state, and he came to the conclusion then that she’s an “awesome lady.”
Stearns believes Native efforts and votes for Heitkamp tipped the scales in her favor. Tex Hall, chairman of Three Affiliated Tribes, hosted a get-out-the-vote rally on her behalf on his reservation the Saturday before the election, and also campaigned for her.
“Sometimes the good candidates really win,” Stearns said. “Even a Democrat in a Republican state.”