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Tester, Heitkamp Score Victories With Native Vote

The American Indian vote scored some big victories for politicians on election night in America.

American Indian voters 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.” Joe Valandra, an economic consultant to tribes, said both Tester and Heitkamp owe it to Indians to work hard for positive tribal agendas in Washington D.C. "I think they should be expected to give these issues the full attention and energy of their offices," he said. "[Their] successes in Montana and North Dakota are directly tied to Indian votes." Beyond the Native roles in Tester and Heitkamp’s victories, there are now two Native Americans in U.S. Congress. Chickasaw incumbent Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, easily defeated his challenger, as did Cherokee Markwayne Mullin, also a Republican in the state. "With the election of Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma is sending another Native American to Congress," Cole said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues, both old and new, to enact the Carcieri fix, pass my tribal trade legislation, and remove barriers to tribal sovereignty and economic development." On the Democratic side, John Oceguera, Paiute, was not successful in his bid for Congress in Nevada. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Cherokee heritage but has not been able to prove it, also pulled out a victory in her race for a Senate seat in Massachusetts. Indians are looking to her to connect with tribal leaders given the controversies of her situation. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, current head of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, won his race, as did Sen. John Barrasso, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., and current vice-chair of the Native caucus in the House, is expected to lose to Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz, who has expressed support for Indian issues in the past. Other victorious candidates that some Natives had been supporting included Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, and New Mexico Rep. Martin Heinrich in his Democratic bid for the Senate.

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