GOP Convention 2011–Montana

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Montana GOP convention in Butte.

I had never been to Montana before, so this was exciting. I can say with certainty that I look forward to going back to Montana many times.

Butte is considered the most liberal part of Montana. It is also the smallest known city in the state. So why on Earth would the GOP choose Butte to have their gathering?

The decision actually made perfect sense. The Montana GOP correctly reasoned that rather than preaching to the converted, coming to an area with divergent opinions could result in “flipping” new people to the GOP. People vote with their wallets, and the local store owners were very appreciative of the traffic. More than one person expressed how much more action was taking place than usual. When it was pointed out to them that the Republicans were in town, they seemed glad that it resulted in a spike in business.

For those who had never been to the Butte airport, it is smaller than some (very) large homes. I asked which gate I was supposed to go through, and the security person required, “the gate.” While waiting for the plane I read a copy of the local paper, the Montana Standard.

(In my home of Los Angeles we have the LA Times, forever now known as the “sub-standard.”)

The convention itself was held at the Copper King Hotel. Convenience is an understatement. The Copper King is literally across the street from the airport. It is a short walk, although a 60 second car ride also gets the job done. The Copper King is a great place to stay on vacation. It is family friendly, and the indoor pool has one of the best water slides I have ever been on outside of a theme park.

As for the people of Montana, they were every bit as friendly as I expected. This is Western Country, and cowboy hats, buckles, and handlebar mustaches were in attendance. Yet these people were not all hat and no cattle. They were there for serious business.

People think of Montana as a “red” state. Yet while there are many conservatives in Montana, the Governorship and both Senate seats are controlled by the Democrats. The lone congressional seat is held by Republican Denny Rehberg. Congressman Rehberg is running for the Senate seat currently occupied by John Tester. Tester has a reputation outside of Montana as a “Montana Democrat,” which means moderate. Yet his voting record is quite liberal. Mr. Rehberg is considered a serious challenger.

Some conventions claim to be three days, but usually that means arriving very late the first night just to check in, having one day of business, and then checking out very early the third morning. This was a real three day convention. There was a ton of business to get done.

The first evening contained a welcome celebration put together by State Chairman Will Deschamps. Mr. Deschamps is very respected, and his reelection as Chairman occurred during the convention. I was the main speaker at this event, and the crowd was boisterous and ready for red meat.

(Oh and for those who don’t know, recently retired LA Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is known for driving his motorcycle around Montana. He did not crash the convention, which was good. Given that he is a socialist and much bigger than me, it would not have ended well for me. My anti-Laker comments would also not have pleased him.)

After my remarks, there were different options for people. I attended a dinner where the keynote speaker was RNC honcho Saul Anuzis. Mr. Anuzis remarks shall remain off the record (I never asked him either way, so I am erring on the side of caution).

One misconception about American politics is that the parties are dead and that everything is about individual candidates. The term “party hacks” is bandied about unfairly. Mr. Anuzis explained very well why the RNC and the GOP matter. He made it clear that candidates who take GOP money and then bolt the GOP to run third party races will face consequences. He also made it clear that liberal news media will not get to decide where and when Republicans have their primary debates. The dinner discussion was very substantive. Mr. Anuzis is passionate about strengthening the GOP as a whole.

One thing that was palpable throughout the weekend was that 2012 will bring a national relevance to Montana that it has not experienced in a very long time. Montana is not a swing state. While Democrats do hold the top political positions, it is still a conservative state. It is seen as fairly safe in the Republican column at the presidential level. It is also a small state, so the three electoral votes will not be fought over in itself. So under normal circumstances, presidential candidates and the current president would ignore the state.

Yet 2012 is different. A perfect storm of events has the Governership, Tester’s Senate seat, and the Congressional seat all up for grabs. Republicans are well positioned to sweep everything back into their column. This could bring visits for some very important fundraisers on both sides of the aisle. Control of the Senate could make Montana a major national battleground.

The Governorship is an open seat. I saw 7 or 8 different GOP candidates vying for the seat. The candidates I met were pleasant. They seemed determined not to turn the convention into a circular firing squad. Lobbying the 300 delegates in attendance took place during convention business and during the social events. All three nights of the convention had a dinner with a different speaker. Hospitality suites were buzzing with competing meet and greet candidate events. The hotel bar had delegates enjoying comedy night and politics into the night.

My only regret is that I had to leave during the second day. I was in Montana for less than 24 hours. Yet thanks to Chairman Deschamps and Executive Director Bowen Greenwood, I made friends that I look forward to seeing many times over. At this convention the Tea Party and GOP seemed harmonious. The Bozeman Tea Party in particular has a strong presence.

Next year the Montana GOP Convention will take place in Missoula. Missoula is also fairly liberal, but is a much bigger city.

Until then, I can only wish the Montana Convention attendees well. I got to have fun. After I left they had two days of heavy lifting. As expected, it was mission accomplished. The state party leadership is in place, and next comes the intense primaries on the way to flipping the state back to the GOP. Based on the dedication of the delegates I met, this is very doable.


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