Could Montana Go Blue?

By Sean Reagan

Montana Democrats head to the polls on June 3 where Obama enjoys a sizable lead over Clinton. As Eric Kleefeld notes, Obama is not taking the race there for granted. I don’t think Obama is worried about losing to Clinton in Montana. At least I hope that he’s not. I hope that what he’s doing is laying groundwork to make Montana competitive – and keep McCain on his heels out west – in the general election.

Montana is one of those rural states that has leaned Republican in terms of its Presidential votes. Bush won the ’04 vote by by 20 points and the ’00 vote by 25.

The last Democratic Presidential candidate to win Montana was Bill Clinton in 1992, with just 38% of the vote.

But I think it’s a mistake for Democrats to write off Montana altogether.

In 2006 Jon Tester – an organic farmer from Big Sandy – beat incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in a hotly-contested race. The Governor, Brian Schweitzer, is also a Democrat – the first to hold the governorship in twenty years. His victory had coattails, too – Democrats took the state senate and won four out of five state offices.

Democratic incumbent Max Baucus is poised to handily win reelection to the Senate.

I call that a trend.

In April, McCain’s lead on Obama was only 5 points – 48 %-43%. That’s a lot closer to Clinton ’92 than Gore ’00 or Kerry ’04. Bob Barr will be on the ballot in the general which will almost certainly cut into McCain’s margin (Perot won 14% in ’92 which helps explain Clinton’s narrow victory there).

David Sirota said that Schweitzer’s victory is a blueprint for Democrats.

Schweitzer had an innovative, three-part political strategy, one that perfectly fit the current conditions in Montana, but which Democrats across the country could learn from. First, Schweitzer took advantage of public dissatisfaction with two decades of insular one-party rule in the state capital, casting himself as an outsider and a reformer. Second, he rallied small business, usually a solidly GOP constituency, to his side by opposing the deals Republicans had cut in Washington and Helena to favor large or out-of-state corporations over local entrepreneurs. Third, and most interesting of all, Schweitzer figured out how to win over one of the most important, reliably Republican, and symbolically significant groups of voters: hunters and fishermen.

I don’t want Obama to don camouflage or start gunning clay pigeons behind the barn. But McCain is no darling of the NRA. This is a guy who can be neutralized on the gun issue, allowing Obama to play up his change in Washington and boosting the economy themes which, as Sirota points out, will resonate with Montana voters.

That, combined with the possibility of Barr splitting the traditionally Republican vote, could actually turn Montana blue. Stranger things have happened.

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3 Responses to “Could Montana Go Blue?”

  1. Good looking out, Sean.  The mountain west is THE place in the general…makes you wonder more about a SHOCK VP choice we haven’t considered much.  Out of CO, MT, or even NM.

  2. Wow, Bush really won by 20 points in ’04, huh?  That sure flies in the face of the other blue gains in that state.  Makes it kind of hard to figure.  But once Obama locks up the nomination and starts the GE campaign in earnest, I think we’ll see a good bounce in his numbers.  I’ll have my Obama bumper sticker on my car when I’m in MT vacationing this summer!  And I’ll bet Black Eagle (wasn’t that the name they gave him?) will be registering a lot of Native Americans there.

  3. Yes – Black Eagle! McCain has not endeared himself to native Americans. There’s plenty of room for Obama to gain ground there.
    Please be sure to give us a report from the ground in MT. Thanks!

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