MONTANA 3 Electoral Votes
Obama/Allies  |  McCain/Allies  |  Nader  
Montana is a state that has very often been ignored by presidential campaigns.  The Obama campaign built on the organizing it had done for the competitive June 3 primary, and put together an unprecedented ground game that almost carried the state in the general election.  Following the June 3 primary, which Obama won by a 56.6% to 41.1% over Hillary Clinton, the Obama campaign continued to run advertising.  It opened some offices in July and eventually had 19 offices around the state.  "We were everywhere," stated one person who worked on the campaign.  Meanwhile, the McCain campaign, headed by former Sen. Conrad Burns, did not put a single staffer in the state and was reliant on the efforts of the state party.

As the Montana Democratic Party pointed out, McCain had not visited the state in eight years.  Although Sarah Palin's plane made a refueling stop in Great Falls on September 10 on her way back to Alaska, she did not disembark.  By contrast, Obama and his family stayed in Butte over the July 4 weekend, a visit which generated considerable national media coverage.  Obama also stopped in Billings on August 27 en route to the Convention in Denver, and running mate Joe Biden made an appearance in Kalispell on September 7.

The Obama campaign made a concerted effort to attract support of Native Americans, who account for over six percent of Montana's population. 
On May 19, during the primary race, Obama himself had made a first-ever visit by a presidential candidate to Crow Agency (Southeast of Billings) where he was adopted by the Black Eagle family and given the name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish ("One Who Helps People Throughout the Land").  There are seven reservations in the state.  Several of the Obama campaign's 19 offices were on reservations including the ones in Crow Agency and Pablo/Ronan.  Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, served as the campaign's constituency director. 

A kerfuffle arose at the end of September when the Montana Republican Party, citing possible voter fraud, challenged voter registrations of almost 6,000 Montanans.  Democrats and voting rights advocates charged voter suppression [press release], and on October 6 the Montana Democratic Party sued the state GOP in the U.S. District Court in Missoula.  The suit noted the challenges were "in traditionally Democratic leaning areas" and stated that "the Republican Defendants intended by these mass challenges to intimidate lawfully registered citizens and to deprive such citizens of their right to vote...">  Jake Eaton, the executive director of the Montana GOP, quickly backed away from the challenges and resigned shortly thereafter, just three weeks before the election.

The Obama campaign focused on early voting.  On October 6 it kicked off an early vote truck tour in Helena with Gov. Brian Schweitzer at the wheel of a borrowed and battered white pick up truck tour.  The tour made about thirty stops and covered around 2,000 miles.  Since there is only one early voter location in each county, the truck would sometimes lead "votercades" to the voting place.

the fact that the Obama campaign's national chief of staff Jim Messina has extensive Montana ties may have helped to put a bit of a point on the campaign's efforts. 

Montana had the distinction of being one of two states with Ron Paul on the ballot; the Constitution Party of Montana put Paul on its ballot line, rather than Chuck Baldwin.  (Paul received a bit over 2-percent of the vote).  Ralph Nader weighed in with an October 22 visit to the University of Montana in Missoula, but he managed less than 1-percent of the vote.

In late October, as Election Day approached, the RNC decided the race in Montana was close enough that it spent between $300,000 and $400,000 (source New York Times) to run independent expenditure ads there.

Although Obama/Biden fell a bit short when all the votes were counted, Democrats could point to the unexpectedly narrow
11,096 vote (2.26 percentage point) margin and to their success in other statewide races.  Apart from the Denny Rehberg's re-election to Congress, Max Baucus was re-elected to the U.S. Senate and Democrats swept all five state offices: Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor and Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Republicans found solace in the state Senate results where they picked up three seats to gain a majority (from 26D-24R to 27R-23D).

Copyright © 2008  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action