More than 30 blue-blooded Democrats turned out for the January meeting of the Missoula County Democrats Central Committee on Tuesday. Most had come to hear former Missoula mayor Dan Kemmis, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, talk about the prospects of a 2008 Western states presidential primary.

With the exception of perhaps three people under 40, most of those gathered under the florescent haze of the third-floor classroom in the Missoula Children's Theatre building were seasoned local Democrats.One notable exception was a young man named Kevin Cass.

Cass moved to Missoula about a month and a half ago as the state's new Western Regional Field Organizer for the Democratic National Committee. He's one of DNC Chairman Howard Dean's foot soldiers, and he's working to reenergize the grassroots of the Democratic Party in Montana.

Six months ago, Missoula County Democrats were hardly an organized political force. According to Alex Taft, fundraising co-chair, and Ray Aten, chairman of the communications committee, the local party was plagued by disorganization and disinterest.

"I think Democrats took Missoula County for granted," Taft told the Independent on a recent visit to our office.

"We hear more and more from the state party that Missoula is being targeted by Republicans," explained Aten. Local Dems believe suburban growth around the city is changing not only the physical landscape, but the political landscape as well.

Now, under new local leadership and with direction from Cass, the party hopes to experience a rebirth. Armed with a four-pronged approach to organizing and campaigning, they plan to secure Missoula County's status as a Democratic stronghold.

Dean recently deployed organizers like Cass across the nation in hopes of taking back Congress in November and the White House in 2008. The idea is to shift from a consultant-driven strategy of targeting key elections to building the party's base at the grassroots level...precinct to precinct.

Cass's job is to travel around the state organizing and reorganizing local central committees. Hoping to cash in on the momentum of the 2004 elections and Gov. Brian Schweitzer's popularity, Cass and the state Democrats think they can build a base that will send Sen. Conrad Burns packing.

And it's races like that in which Kemmis thinks Western states like Montana can have the biggest impact. With only a handful of delegates and electoral votes, Montana is negligible in the presidential picture, but if Western states from Arizona to Montana could send more Democrats to the Senate, they would wield a more powerful regional voice.

And idea has Missoula Democrats, young and old, finally, very excited.

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