On June 16, University of Montana College Republicans sat in dark suits sipping coffee, while ranchers young and old in worn cowboy boots and white Stetsons sat next to women in sun hats as they waited for the arrival of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, on the final day of the GOP's convention at the Hilton Garden Inn in Missoula.
When Gingrich arrived, he fed the momentum that had built during the two preceding days of campaign speeches, political workshops and the presence of one now-notorious bullet-ridden outhouse bearing the sign "Obama Presidential Library."
"This is the most important election since 1860," Gingrich told the audience. "We must tie the Senate race to the presidential race. It's one more piece of the machine."
The Senate race between Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Republican challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg is among the most contested in the country. Gingrich said if Republicans are to take control of the Senate, it's vital that Rehberg wins.
With stronger Republican leadership, he said, Montana would be able to regain a stronger resource-extraction economy. "Timber mills will come back to Montana. The timber industry will see a recovery and there will be a market for timber over the next 20 years. ... We have to shift from Sierra Club mismanagement to Theodore Roosevelt-era environmental planning to maintain healthy and diverse forests."
Gingrich said that with the leadership of candidates like Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill and congressional candidate Steve Daines, Montana can provide an even stronger example for the rest of the nation when it comes to resource extraction, energy independence and maintaining state autonomy.
"I don't think any future president should ever bow to a Saudi king," Gingrich said, evoking a standing ovation from the audience.
The Romney presidential campaign paid for Gingrich's visit to Montana. Gingrich officially pulled out of the presidential race weeks before the Montana primary, but still won four percent of Montana's vote. Since then, Gingrich has endorsed Romney and has toured the country rallying support for Romney's campaign.
"I don't think Romney would come here and think he'd know about what it is like to be a Montanan," Gingrich said "I think Romney would say most of Montana's decisions should be made in Montana."