Local boy makes good

by Pete Talbot

Jim Messina isn’t a native Missoulian but he spent many of his formative years in the Garden City. Messina, former chief of staff to Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus, has just accepted the chief of staff position for presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama.

I first met Jim back in 1990 93. He was running the Missoula mayoral campaign for Dan Kemmis and I was running the campaign for a candidate for city council. Kemmis won his race while my candidate lost. Enough said.

From these humble beginnings, Messina went on to work on U.S. Senate and House campaigns in Alaska, North Dakota and New York.

He also ran Baucus’ re-election bid in 2002. Baucus beat Mike Taylor 62.7% to 31.7%. This race was notable, however, for a couple of things. One was a Baucus TV spot that featured historic footage of Taylor in a hair-care video wearing a Nehru jacket and massaging a man’s head. The spot destroyed Taylor.

The race also featured two colorful (pun intended) third-party candidates: The blue-skinned Libertarian Stan Jones, who as a precaution against a supposed millennium Armageddon had ingested a homemade elixir containing silver; and Green Party candidate Bob Kelleher, who is this year’s Republican candidate against Sen. Baucus!

But back to Messina. Even though Taylor’s chances against Baucus were minuscule, Messina ran an aggressive campaign, took nothing to chance and acted as though the campaign was neck-and-neck up to election eve. That’s Jim Messina.

Messina is hard working, fiercely loyal and takes no quarter when it comes to running a campaign. He’s defended Max against the kind of criticism that’s emanated from places like this website (Max’s less than stellar opposition to the Iraq War, and his votes on prescription drugs, free trade, bankruptcy, tax cuts … ). But then I guess that’s part of the job description of a chief of staff — defending your boss against critics, no matter what.

Messina isn’t a policy guy, he’s an organizer, and damn good at it. He also understands Western politics and issues, and it will serve Montana well to have Jim Messina working closely with Barack Obama. Congratulations, Jim, and good luck to you and Sen. Obama.

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