Bohlinger Gets the Cold Shoulder

By Beacon Staff

For our print edition this week I wrote about the so-called “rift” in Montana’s Republican party between moderates and conservatives that may or may not exist, depending on whom you ask.

Then this morning, the Helena media reported that Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger was snubbed after attempting to purchase tickets to the Friday night dinner at this weekend’s Republican convention.

This Montana tiff comes on the heels of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s announcement that he’s withdrawing from the Republican Party and registering as an independent, raising national questions about how inclusive Republicans can be of independent-minded centrists.

Some Republican operatives stated in this morning’s article that Bohlinger missed the deadline to purchase dinner tickets, which is a laughably transparent excuse for his exclusion. But Erik Iverson, who will take over as party chairman this weekend, was more candid when he compared the situation to opposing Montana football coaches sitting in each other’s locker rooms at halftime to figure out the other side’s strategy.

It’s an interesting little slice of partisan friction. On one hand, Bohlinger is one of the highest-ranking Republicans and most respected elected officials in the state. You can interpret Bohlinger’s Friday night dinner snub as an indication that the GOP is unwilling to include its moderate members.

On the other hand, Bohlinger is going to be Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s running mate against Republicans in 2008; he is a political opponent. Much of what goes down this weekend at the GOP convention will be the discussion of a precinct-by-precinct plan to attempt to retake a majority in the state Senate and expand the GOP majority in the House. Republican challengers will also announce their candidacies against Schweitzer and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. It makes sense that Republicans want to prevent their strategies from leaking to Schweitzer and the Democrats.

But back to that first hand: Bohlinger’s not asking to sit in on strategy sessions, he’s asking to come to dinner, pay too much money to eat some broiled lemon chicken and soggy rice pilaf, and hear a speech by Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams. A speech, I might add, that’s going to be covered by reporters (including me). Would someone sitting at Bohlinger’s table start running off at the mouth about GOP electoral strategy? It’s possible, but unlikely.

What do you think? Did Republicans miss a chance to pick up some independent-minded swing voters in ’08 by giving one of their most high-profile members the cold shoulder? Or were they right to assert that Bohlinger isn’t welcome at an event where talk of strategy is likely to happen?

(Shameless self-promotion: I’ll be traveling to Helena to cover the GOP convention Friday and Saturday, with speeches by presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other notables. Tune in to Flatheadbeacon.com for coverage of the event. Lido can’t come, so I’ll be bringing a point-and-click camera. Please don’t make nasty comments about how terrible my photography is.)

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