Last month, Neil Livingstone joined the ranks of Montana's more unusual political hopefuls. The New York Times reported Nov. 17 that Livingstone, a terrorism expert turned GOP gubernatorial candidate, was asked to help broker a deal to give Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi an exit strategy prior to the dictator's death in October.
Many greeted the news as a scandal for the Livingstone campaign, which was already flagging. Livingstone was shown trailing in polls throughout the summer, and his funding was running low this fall. His campaign website has been idle since August.
But the primary is still six months away. It may be too soon to lump even the darkest horse in with past gubernatorial flops like Stan Jones, the Libertarian whose use of colloidal silver literally made him the bluest candidate in the 2000 and 2004 races.
There are currently nine Republicans vying in next June's GOP primary. Despite the Qaddafi flap, Livingstone likes his odds. "We're not country-club Republicans," he says. "We're blue-collar Republicans, and our campaign is based around getting jobs for working men and women."
Livingstone says he and running mate Ryan Zinke, a state senator from Whitefish, must have shaken "2,500 hands each" at rodeos this summer. They're focusing on areas like Butte, Anaconda and Missoula, where Republicans don't enjoy a strong voter base. Asked about his chief campaign priority, Livingstone's response matches his predilection for bus travel: "We're going to try to meet every voter we can."
Livingstone even appears to parrot the down-home talk favored by his potential predecessor; just as Gov. Brian Schweitzer says he runs Montana like a ranch, Livingstone says he'll draw on his years managing large, "nine-figure" organizations.
Fundraising's been a challenge, especially with nine GOP candidates. But Livingstone anticipates his strongest quarter ahead, and plans to recharge his online presence. He's "sprinting to the primary" on June 5, 2012, he says.
The questions come back to Qaddafi, and Livingstone explains that he's brokered similar deals during past regime transitions—though it's "not every day at the office." Negotiations can end conflicts quickly, he says. This deal largely made headlines because of one unknown opportunist, Livingstone says. Belgian Dirk Borgers was a "self-aggrandizer who decided to see, I think, if he could get a payday" by parading as architect of the deal.
"No one cares about that in Montana that I've found," he says of the Qaddafi situation. "They have issues here about jobs and the economy and so on."