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
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
Ross, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, served as the campaign's
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
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...">
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.
Finally, 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 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).