A Democrat runs through it and the Republican caucus

by Pete Talbot

Missoula’s reputation as a haven for “liberal dope-smoking hippies” makes it hard to get candidates from the Garden City elected to statewide office. That’s according to Craig Wilson, a political science professor at MSU-Billings, in a story written by Chelsi Moy in last Sunday’s Missoulian.

“To the rest of the state, there is a perception that (Missoulians) view themselves at the center of the universe, and at the center of the state, for sure,” Wilson added. “They feel Missoula is out of step with the rest of the state.”

I have two points to make. First, we are the center of the universe. Second, if you want to be the Democratic nominee, you have to win Missoula.

This second point was overlooked in the Missoulian story. We (Democrats) actually have some power in who ends up on the general election ballot. That’s because we deliver more Democratic votes than any other county in the state. You want to be the Democratic nominee for, say, attorney general? You better work Missoula really hard before the primary election.

An example of Missoula’s clout is the Jon Tester/John Morrison primary race for U.S. Senate in 2006. Morrison had a lead in the polls going into the primary but because of a giant grassroots effort and big turnout for Tester in Missoula, Jon ended up being the Democratic nominee in the general election. Granted, there were a few other mitigating circumstances but Missoula did play a huge role.

There are some exceptions to this theory. The John Ellingson/Bill Kennedy 2006 secretary of state primary race is one. Although Ellingson, from Missoula, beat Kennedy, from Billings, rather handily in Missoula County, he didn’t get enough votes statewide to pull it off. I believe Kennedy really thrashed Ellingson in Kennedy’s home county (Yellowstone). I’m guessing that Kennedy also pulled some Republican votes. And Kennedy was quite popular in many of the state’s other counties, both urban and rural.

Ellingson being a trial lawyer probably didn’t help much. That title can raise money but not votes. Witness John Morrison and years earlier Jack Mudd, a Missoula attorney who got spanked by one Conrad Burns. So, maybe it’s the attorney tag and not the Missoula tag, that really hurts you.

That being said, though, in most cases Missoula holds the key to winning in the Democratic primary. And you can hold me accountable on June 4, the day after Montana’s primary election. I’m betting that the Democratic winners in Missoula County will be the Democratic candidates on the November ballot.

Another Missoulian article, this one in Wednesday’s paper and written by AP reporter Matt Gouras, talked about the Montana Republican Party’s new caucus system. It will allow the party faithful — from statewide office holders all the way down to precinct committeemen and women — to support a presidential candidate in the party’s Feb. 5 caucus.

This system has some appeal to me because everyone else in the state can’t weigh in until the June 3 primary. And by that time, it’s usually all over. (Some pundits are saying it will be over by Feb. 5, also known as Super Tuesday, when as many as 22 states could be holding primaries. Notice that this date also coincides with the Montana Republican caucus.)

Of course the downside is that only hand-picked Republican Party insiders will be voting on the outcome. The Democrats will rely on the number of votes cast in the primary to dictate how their delegates will vote in the national convention. It’s more democratic that way but again, it’s really late in the cycle — it could be down to one, maybe two Democratic candidates at that point.

There has been other commentary on the Montana Republican caucus, on blog sites both left and right. It has been noted that while the caucus system may not be the most democratic, it actually might draw some candidates to Montana, or at least get them to respond to some of our issues. It’s also a great way to build the party. For example, the AP article indicates that Ron Paul supporters are starting to line up for open precinct seats.

Should Montana Democrats adopt a caucus system? What think you, faithful reader?

Update: This is sort of a correction for the Missoula Parking Commission. Meter maids were just ticketing serial parking abusers on Christmas Eve day — those parking over two hours, in loading zones or leased parking slots that didn’t belong to them. The standard parking violator (expired meter) got a Christmas card from the commission.

I was also informed that there used to be a TWO week period before Christmas when vehicles weren’t ticketed downtown. That’s not the case anymore.


  1. Personally, I am so tired of hearing from everyone in the last (seemingly) two years–on both the left and the right–that I would love to see a primary season of three months or less in all 50 states before the general election. When the rest of us apply for a job, we don’t get to endlessly parade around in front of our prospective employers for 14 months. Why should John Edwards or Mike Huckabee?

  2. Better than trying to adapt to a system that’s broken, we should push our people in DC to get on board with national reform of the primary system.

  3. Interesting observations about Missoula’s electoral power in the primaries. Certainly the city has a big club over the Dem. party, not only in primary votes, but in fundraising, too. We siphon a lot of money into state Democrats’ pockets.

    You could also argue that Missoula’s huge turnout and lopsided vote for Tester helped him win the Senate seat, which made up for his not-so-great showing in rural counties where Schweitzer fared much better. 2006 was an extraordinary election, but given Missoula’s growth rate, that election may be a harbinger of elections to come…

  4. Jim Lang

    I wonder if Tester would have won without Initiative 2… that got out a lot of young voters…

  5. Yeah, heh. Of course, everybody should be interested in ending the “war on drugs”…

  6. goof houlihan

    I can’t go to a Grizzly football game and see the people selling the “split the pot” tickets without always misinterpreting what it is I’d win. I know I’m not the only one, either. Last time there were guys with dreads and bongs buying those tickets up like crazy, man.

    I believe the primary system has failed us.

  7. Farmer Lawyer

    At the start of this seemingly endless cycle (we’re not even half way and already I’m suffering from political fatigue) I felt frustrated that as a Montana Democrat we really don’t have much of a voice. By June, the Presidential nomination is (or should be) over, and the state has only voted (D) in ’92 for Clinton and ’64 for LBJ (both fair minded centrists). I even considered crossing the ballot just to push the (R) to a more moderate choice.

    Why should Iowa and NH get to lead the nation? I’m glad to see the Democrats spicing things up with NV and SC, but even now it seems those states are still second fiddle. When it all shakes out, will it be any different? I fear not . . . and I think once again Montanans will be relying on others to nominate the president we need.

    Should Montana’s Democratic Presidential nomination be earlier? Absolutely.

  8. Jedediah Redman

    I can remember how sick I got of hearing Eisenhower and Stevenson on the campaign trail!
    I’m thinking this may well be one of the big reasons why so many of this nation’s citizens are–not only not political junkies but–almost entirely apolitical…

  9. Jedediah Redman

    Boy could this forum use an edit function..!

  10. Sorry, Jed. Mistakes stand as they are. Since everyone flubs their grammar, spelling and meaning from time to time, it’s accepted that boo-boos will happen. You can always post a second time with your corrections.

  11. Jedediah Redman

    Is that some kind of puritanism?–or are the servers just not properly equipped..?

  12. No, it’s because our template doesn’t have a “preview” option.

  13. petetalbot

    Thanks for fielding Jed’s question, Rebecca. I’d like to add that 4&20 contributors have been discussing changes in format, delivery and other aspects of the site.

  14. Jedediah Redman

    Heck it was just a comment, folks.
    I’ve posted on even more one horse forums before.
    If I’d’ve been gonna leave it would’ve been back when the feminists were whacking me with their haltertops!
    That was really offputting…

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