As Montana Republicans fill 2,739 seats for their upcoming state caucus, GOP presidential campaigns are scrambling to stack key caucus positions before the February 5th vote.
A legion of 1,726 local party precinct volunteers should make up the largest bloc of caucus voters, and the latest count shows 1,036 remaining vacancies within that group. In addition to selecting a presidential nominee, the precinct volunteers constitute a crucial component of GOP efforts to revitalize their grass roots machine after a debilitating loss in the 2006 United States Senate race.
“The precinct people are where it all starts,” explains Montana GOP Political Director, Jake Eaton. “They are the very grass roots level of the party structure.”
Conventional thinking about the GOP’s new presidential caucus anticipates that local precinct officials will become the party’s grass-roots workhorses, laying the groundwork for a vigorous campaign to win back state legislative seats in ’08. But this assumption might backfire if supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul, hungry for caucus votes, sign-up for precinct jobs and then disappear after the campaign—not exactly the kind of sustained activism Eaton envisions.
Paul’s Montana State Coordinator, David Hart, says his campaign’s strategy has two simple priorities. “First,” Hart explains, “fill as many open vacant precinct positions as we can with individuals who are inclined to vote for Ron Paul.” Second, he adds, “influence the hearts and minds of the remaining…caucus voters.”
GOP Executive Director Chris Wilcox told the Associated Press he doesn’t want one particular campaign to “stack the deck,” explaining that, “we don’t want people who are just going to come in and cast a vote and take off.”
Of course, Paul’s probably not the only candidate with volunteers eager to control the caucus. “I don’t know why Ron Paul is being singled-out,” says Hart. “All the precinct seats that are being filled will have that potential.”
While Montana will still hold its open presidential primary in June, the winner will not influence the GOP’s national convention in September, where all 25 Montana delegates will instead vote on behalf of the caucus winner.