Bohlinger, GOP Clash Over Presidential Caucus

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and the Montana Republican Party are clashing again, this time over whether he will be allowed to vote in the Feb. 5 presidential caucus.

Bohlinger said Tuesday that he plans to vote and make a speech beforehand in support of John McCain.

“And why not?” Bohlinger asked. “I’m an elected official in this state, elected by the people and I’m a Republican.”

Bohlinger briefly served as McCain’s Montana campaign chairman before he was replaced this weekend by former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns.

The Montana Republican Party said that Bohlinger is not eligible to vote under their rules, which give caucus votes to those who hold a position in the party, from statewide elected officials to congressman to volunteer precinct captains. The party said Bohlinger was elected as a Democrat not a Republican.

Chris Wilcox, state party executive director, said the door is open to Bohlinger at GOP headquarters. He said Bohlinger should have asked about voting earlier, and they could have helped him get a precinct spot.

“The rules as they are do not provide for an elected Democrat to vote,” Wilcox said. “If this was a priority for him, I wish he would have addressed it before now.”

Bohlinger said Montana has no system for registering voters by party. He said he believes he is eligible to vote in the caucus by virtue of the office he holds and his long-standing affiliation to the Republican Party when he was a legislator for years.

But the GOP says that statewide elected officials must run under the Republican Party banner to be eligible. Bohlinger did not, they said, because he ran on the same ticket with Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The lieutenant governor in Montana is elected as the running mate of the governor.

The Secretary of State’s office, which runs elections in Montana but is not involved in the GOP caucus, said that the ticket Bohlinger ran on with Schweitzer in 2004 only lists one party: Democrat. There is no place on the form for a second party, said spokesman Bowen Greenwood.

“As lieutenant governor, he would be in those records as a Democrat,” Greenwood said.

The Montana Republicans are holding the Feb. 5 caucus for the first time this year. It is open to fewer than 3,000 party insiders and the winner takes all 25 of the state’s delegates to the Republican nominating convention this summer.

The new caucus has brought increased interest to the local volunteer party jobs. The GOP says it has added over 700 precinct positions since September for a total of 1,133.

Bohlinger said he has already made plans to go to the Helena meeting of Republicans on Feb. 5, where eligible voters will cast secret ballots.

“I would challenge them: on what basis would you say I can’t vote?” Bohlinger said. “I am the lieutenant governor of the state of Montana and I am a Republican.”

Republicans denied Bohlinger entrance to the state party convention last summer. They said he sent in his application late, and said they no longer considered him a Republican.

Bohlinger, however, was invited to the GOP winter meeting last weekend where Republicans wanted to grill him about his allegiance to Schweitzer. Bohlinger could not attend because he was out of the country.

Bohlinger said the state party has no authority to define who is a Republican and who is not. And he doesn’t think he will get turned away on Tuesday.

“If they were to do that, they would look silly,” Bohlinger said. “And I don’t think they want to look silly.”