An influx of new residents to GOP-leaning Montana could be the key voting bloc that decides the state's hotly-contested Senate race

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  • The Montana US Senate race is set to be one of the most competitive races in the country.

  • Now there's a new layer to the race: recent transplants who could sway the election.

  • An influx of new residents has driven up home prices and shined a light on housing affordability.

Montana's US Senate race is shaping up to be one of the marquee races of 2024 as three-term Democrat Jon Tester hopes to fend off an aggressive challenge from his likely GOP opponent, Tim Sheehy.

The contest has huge national implications. A win for Tester in Montana would give Democrats a fighting chance to retain control of the Senate, while a GOP victory would be the culmination of a long road to regaining a critical seat in the conservative-leaning state.

With former President Donald Trump highly likely to win Montana in November, many Republicans believe he'll be able to aid down-ballot candidates like Sheehy.

But it's not that simple.

Tester, a moderate Democrat, has established a political brand that has defied the state's GOP orientation for nearly 20 years. And it's about to be tested even further due to the state's recent population surge, with transplants from Western states like California, Oregon, and Washington poised to be an electoral wild card in a contest that was already set to be competitive.

Montana has always drawn people who are attracted to the outdoors. During the coronavirus pandemic, many transplants found refuge in the state as they worked remotely. With many of these new residents possessing higher incomes — coupled with the demand for housing — home prices have gone through the roof in recent years.

The median home price in Montana hit $425,000 in late 2023, a 75% increase from 2018, The New York Times reported.

In Bozeman, which has become a hot spot for affluent transplants, the median home price has risen to an astonishing $770,000, according to the newspaper.

According to the US Census Bureau, Bozeman's population jumped from roughly 37,000 to more than 53,000 from 2010 to 2020. In 2022, the city's population grew even further to 56,000.

The rising prices have shined a brighter light on housing affordability, as many native Montanans have been priced out by ever-increasing rents. Outside of Bozeman, some longtime residents are now residing in RVs due to the heightened costs.

With strong support from GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte, the Montana legislature passed housing and land-use reform bills that overhauled the construction process — and now permit more housing density.

The issue is sure to be a major issue for Tester — as well as the eventual GOP Senate nominee — for a state in transition.

In 2018, Tester won reelection to a third term by roughly 18,000 votes out of nearly 505,000 ballots cast.

National Republicans see Montana as one of their best opportunities to win a "red" seat, especially as many transplants left Democratic-dominated coastal states for a more rustic environment.

But the Senate race is projected to be incredibly close. And for Democrats and Republicans, the newest Montanans will likely be an unpredictable voting bloc.

Read the original article on Business Insider