Saturday, July 28, 2007

Go west you national politicians and pundits

Once again, yet again, another reminder is offered on how to not only win the mountain west and rural west as a local but also a national. Of course, there is a mention of Governor Schweitzer:
Diary Of A Mad Voter: JP Pendleton
Candidates Could Find Campaign Wisdom In Rural West
JP Pendleton

"Flyover Country.” I’d probably call it an overused term if I hadn’t opened this paragraph with it. Nevertheless, much of the area we live in along the Rockies would clearly fall into this geographic region of relatively sparse population and darn nice scenery. One would only need to look at a nighttime photograph of the North American continent to see there is definitely some space between the bright spots out here.

Even with the ever-lengthening political season, the aspiring leaders of the free world have a finite amount of time to reach potential supporters and win their vote (and their donations). This means they need as much bang for their buck as they can get, and have to reach both the population centers and/or the states with the early primaries. This gives them votes and money and the all-important delegates for the national conventions in the summer.

In Montana, our relatively late primary (June) combined with our relatively low population density (one million folks in the fourth largest state in the Union) and proportionately few electoral votes (three) makes us a pretty uninviting target for the bare-knuckle combat of presidential politics.

That doesn’t mean we’re completely ignored. I remember listening to both Bush 41 and Bill Clinton speak at Rocky Mountain College in Billings during the summer and fall of 1992. Regardless, the numbers would indicate a fairly low electoral value on Montana and other Mountain West states – but I’m not as convinced that holds water when you take into account the practical views of those living in this easy-to-ignore region.

I would say in order to attract the Montana voter, one must first understand the political landscape and look at the political history of the state through a lens larger than the last cycle or two. The emergence of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer as one of the most popular Chief Executives in the Nation – the first Democrat in sixteen years to occupy the Capitol in Helena­and the recent ousting of three-term Republican Senator Conrad Burns would indicate at face value a shift from red to blue using the political color wheel.

However, a recent conversation with a political veteran in Helena reminded me of Montana’s strong democratic roots. Senator Conrad Burns was only the second Republican ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Montana – and the only one ever re-elected [since the adoption of the 17th Amendment providing for direct election of Senators by the people rather than the legislature]. One shouldn’t forget the deep union roots of Montana, and the strength of the labor and trade unions in the state, not to mention Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Burton K. Wheeler, Pat Williams, Max Baucus and a host of other prominent Democrats over the last century. Still, I think it would be fair to say Montana (and much of the west) has a strong independent and populist streak that has no qualms against breaking free of the traditional framework of Democrat or Republican.
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