In the last year, several states have moved their primary elections forward on the calendar in an attempt to compete for the campaign attention states like New Hampshire and Iowa receive. Montana’s 2007 Legislature attempted, and failed, to pass a law that would have moved the state’s primary up to February.
And so, Montana, with its June primary, is still one of the last states to weigh in.
“By the time it comes around to us, it’s already pretty well been decided,” says Chris Wilcox, executive director of Montana’s Republican Party.
On Aug. 25, Wilcox’s party may change that when the Republican State Central Committee meets in Helena.
There, party officers will vote on new rules that would allow themselves and elected state officials to vote in a Feb. 28 presidential caucus.
Under the new rules, Montana’s delegates to the Republican National Convention would be required to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the February caucus, regardless of the outcome of the June primary.
About 2,262 Republicans would be eligible to vote in the caucus, and not all Republicans are happy about the proposed change.
Bigfork Republican Rep. William Jones worries it will alienate independent voters by taking away their ability to help decide on a Republican candidate, and thus further divide his party.
“We’ve just had a series of events that to me are sort of sad,” Jones says. “Starting with, when the special session was over, getting rid of Mike Lange, followed with telling [Lt. Gov. John] Bohlinger he couldn’t come to a dinner they sell tickets to.”
But Wilcox says allowing Republican presidential candidates to lock up their Montana delegation votes early might be the only way for the state to get any attention from the candidates.
“From their perspective, we’re worth about the same value as eight congressional districts in California,” Wilcox says. “And it’s a lot cheaper to campaign here.
“It would make Montana an actual participant in the presidential election,” he continues. “Frankly, that’s reflected in conversations I’ve had with campaigns.”
Wilcox declined to name which candidates might be interested in visiting Montana.
Jones admits, “The reasons for it are all legitimate,” but he isn’t sure the ends justify these means.