Friday, June 13, 2008


Just whose fault is it that Bob Kelleher and John Driscoll are their party's nominees for U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative, respectively? Following the concept that the simplest explanation is probably the right one, voters simply didn't pay attention to who was running in those primary races and did what voters often do when they have no idea: they voted for the names they recognized from past campaigns or past news stories.

On the Democratic side, Driscoll won the right to face Denny Rehberg with a non-campaign that practically was strenuous in its inactivity. Driscoll has vowed to do the same in the general election season--he will raise no money, will do no self-promotion and make no campaign trips. The only thing he hasn't said is that, if elected, he'll refuse to serve. (Now THAT actually could be a vote-getter in Montana.)

Ironically, we may actually see a debate between Driscoll and Rehberg, but only because organizers are working to schedule the debate at a time and place convenient for the candidate's summer trip into the Bob Marshall wilderness. Even if we only get one Rehberg-Driscoll debate, that may be one more than we get in the U.S. Senate race.

Driscoll's win was a slap in the face to Jim Hunt, the Democrats' presumptive nominee. But Hunt has taken the disappointment, at least publicly, with class. He's not claiming dirty tricks or hoping to somehow salvage a spot on the ballot for November.

Compare that response with Republican U.S. Senate also-rans Patty Lovaas and Mike Lange. One week after the votes were counted, Lovaas announced that she'll gather petition signatures to endorse her candidacy as an independent. The only problem with that is that state law doesn't provide for anyone to petition themselves onto a ballot once the March filing deadline has closed. Lovaas considers that unfair and illegal. So, assuming she gets any signatures and turns them into the Secretary of State, she'll be refused, leaving her with two choices: go to court or ask to the 2009 legislature to change the law.

In making her argument, Lovaas essentially told me that Democrats had crossed over in the primary to hand the GOP race to Kelleher, who has switched party affiliations more than once in recent years just to get attention. The result, she says, is that Republicans didn't get a Republican candidate and deserve another choice on the November ballot. To illustrate her argument, she points to Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary (because of his support of the Iraq war) and then was able to get on the November ballot as an independent and win, thus keeping his Senate seat.

Lovaas told me she's taking on this fight because the other Republicans in the race have too much baggage. Meanwhile, the guy with the most luggage of all, Mike Lange, says he may mount a write-in campaign for November. That kind of effort doesn't involve the legal issues that Lovaas' does, but it also won't do much to unseat incumbent Democrat Max Baucus. All it would do is give Lange a soapbox (a small one) he could drag around the state in one last attempt to be relevant. The question for journalists is what to do if Lange shows up at their door asking for coverage. Those with a highly developed sense of fairness (or a slow news day) may give Lange another 15 seconds of fame. Others may well say they're limiting coverage to candidates who actually are on the ballot (and actually won a race) and put the onus on Lange to promote himself.

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