Members of Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama’s campaign staff cry and hug each other at the front of the Wilma Theatre with seemingly uncontrollable smiles—part of a packed house of some 700-plus supporters gathering to rally for Obama on the night of the first meaningful Montana presidential primary in recent memory.
Unsettled excitement bursts into noisy cheers, horn blowing, and a standing ovation for several minutes as Obama appears on a huge movie screen above the Wilma stage.
By 8:35 p.m., as Obama’s speech ends, and a final upward staccato of noise erupts, the crowd’s swelling energy plateaus. Some stay and exchange stories, speeches, and hugs. Eventually a salsa band shows up to play for the remaining supporters and a couple dances in the aisle. Others pour out onto Higgins Ave., while a fast-growing group of local progressives begin crowding into the Badlander, where organizers with Forward Montana are throwing an election party as official numbers come in.
By 10 p.m., the place fills with some 75 people as a chunky beat and throbbing bass line rolls off a set of turntables next to the stage. A line of five Jameson shots appears at the far end of the bar as a smiling young woman huddles in a nearby corner, frantically entering a text message on her phone. Heads begin to bob, and the booze is going down fast as results update on the screens above. Reactions range from visceral to giddy depending on the race. A “Fuck You Bob Keenan!” echoes loudly as the former Republican State Senator falls behind unexpectedly in his race for the Montana House of Representatives, and there’s much buzz in the room about starting a Democrats for Bob Kelleher organization, as the unlikely GOP challenger for U.S. Senate passes frontrunner Kirk Bushman.
“It means…it means Montana really matters now,” a sloshed 20-something man at the bar says to his friend, staring at his drink, shaking his head incredulously with a huge smile. “It really does.”