Friday, June 20, 2008


I spent part of the morning at the Republican state convention in Missoula, talking with statewide candidates and other GOP leaders. One of the things I wanted to know was what party leaders think of the idea that some candidates--from John McCain on down to GOP state legislators--aren't "Republican" enough.

On the subject of the presidential race, former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (wearing a McCain button) only said that both the Democratic and Republican parties had "the most diverse groups of people running...than we've seen in many, many years. People coming from different positions and taking different positions." In other words, diversity is good. (Even if Republicans have to hold their nose when they vote.) Then, without mentioning McCain, he said the next president will be a Republican who will follow the party platform and "stay within the Republican bounds." One wonders if there will be an effort to force McCain either to step to the right or else yield to someone else who will.

In the race for U.S. Senate, GOP primary winner Bob Kelleher was relegated to a meeting room for an hour Friday afternoon, while second-place finisher Mike Lange was given a table and wall space in the lobby to promote his write-in campaign. That's a pretty clear message.

Finally, I asked House Speaker Scott Sales (R-Bozeman) if he was taking a position on fellow Bozeman Republican Roger Koopman's successful efforts to unseat a trio of GOP legislators considered too liberal. Sales said "absolutely not" and said the party has always had people who fit on different parts of the political spectrum. But when I asked about the need to groom new leaders in the legislature, he specifically mentioned two of the GOP challengers who unseated the "liberal" incumbents, saying they had potential for leadership.

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.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Do Montana voters have a sense of humor or what? Bob Kelleher as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate? John Driscoll for Congress? What a slap in the face of the major parties' leading candidates for those offices. Democrat Jim Hunt must hurt terribly that an eccentric former Public Service Commissioner beat him in the Congressional primary without lifting a finger to campaign. And what does political journeyman Bob Kelleher's victory in the Republican Senate opener mean for the state GOP? For one thing, it may lead to deafening silence from Mike Lange. Can you spell "repudiation"? It also may mean that the state party has to start grooming statewide candidates immediately.

Then again, Tuesday's results may only mean that, without overwhelming advertising, Montanans will vote for names they know over names they don't know. Say what you will about Driscoll and Kelleher, but they've on the ballot enough times over the years that voters without other frames of reference will mark the names they recognize.

Now that Barack Obama is headed for coronation at the Democrats' national convention in Denver, who will be his choice for V.P.? And what will that person bring to the ticket? Could Hillary be his choice, with her 18 million voters? (And would she settle for #2?) How about Bill Richardson, who would appeal to the Hispanic voters who turned out for Clinton in droves? Even Brian Schweitzer's name has come up, although I doubt the party would ask him to give up his own race for governor, considering his popularity and his value as the "blue governor in a red state." I think Schweitzer would be more valuable as an Obama campaigner in the midwest and Rocky Mountain states. (I've also talked with fellow observers about Schweitzer getting a Cabinet post in an Obama administration. It sounds plausible on the surface, but would the national party be willing to elevate John Bohlinger to governor? I doubt it.)

It seems to me that Obama's first and biggest task between now and the convention is to reach out to women--a contituency that is hurt, angry and wondering what they have to do to get a female nominee. Naming Clinton as V.P. is not necessarily the answer. While she brings voters, she also brings the family baggage and triggers blind rage in many Republican and independent circles, incuding those who set their political compass by talk radio. Obama doesn't need to wave more red flags in front of those bulls.

What he needs is a woman with national credibility and name recognition who brings something to the electoral map. How about Dianne Feinstein? As senior senator from California and former mayor of San Francisco, she has the pedigree, the legislative experience and could put the ticket over the top in Electoral State #1.

Meanwhile, John McCain also should consider choosing a woman for V.P. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine would be an attractive choice. I've known women (especially minority women) who are smitten with Condoleeza Rice.

Half the country is waiting.