Montana Left in Dust

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Montana never has been significant come presidential primary season, but next year the state’s three electoral votes promise to be even less significant.

The state’s June presidential primary will be a lonely affair. Only South Dakota will be left making party nominations for president by then _ at a time when the issue will have already been decided months in advance.

“When it’s in June, and we’re the last state in the nation picking, everything is pretty well decided,” said Bob Ream, a former Montana Democratic Party chairman who is pushing for an earlier primary. “We don’t have any say in it whatsoever.”

More states are moving their primaries to earlier dates, trying to get a say in primary politics long dominated by the likes of Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s talk that some state may even move a primary to later this year.

A bill offered when the 2007 Montana Legislature was in session would have officially moved Montana’s presidential primary to June, but was shot down amid concerns of the $1 million price.

Ream and other Democrats have not given up hope, though.

A move is afoot to hold a statewide Democratic caucus next February that would pick that party’s choice for president. The caucus, paid for and run by the Democrats, would trump the June primary election for the party.

State Democratic leaders will have to decide this summer whether they want to do it.

Ream said it makes sense since Democrats will be holding their national convention in Denver. More candidates may be tempted to swing through the region if all of the Western states are holding early elections for their party’s choices.

Secretary of State Brad Johnson, who pushed for the measure officially moving the state’s presidential primaries to February, said he will be looking for other ways to raise Montana’s profile in the primaries.

“When you look up irrelevant in the dictionary, you find the Montana presidential primary listed,” the Republican said.

The GOP has no pending motion to hold a caucus in February, as Democrats are considering.

But Johnson said he is renewing his push for rotating national regional primaries. States divided into four regions in the country each would each hold primaries on the same day.

The region going first would rotate each presidential election so that everyone would get a crack at having the most impact.

Johnson expects to soon propose the resolution to a group of state governments.

Johnson said the presidential primary this time around could give momentum to the idea for rotating regional primaries.

So many states have pushed their primaries to the very front, that each party’s nominee will be chosen before the election season really kicks into gear, Johnson said.

“We have front-loaded to such a great degree that we have ended the process shortly after the first of the year,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s healthy for the process.”