Fewer Than 2,000 to Vote in GOP Caucus

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Montana Republicans have added almost 800 new party volunteers in advance of the Feb. 5 caucus and say the process has been a success, even though several hundred openings for precinct volunteers went unfilled.

The Montana Republican Party reports that there will be 1,817 eligible voters on Tuesday when the GOP will make a presidential vote that binds all of the state’s 25 delegates to that candidate.

When the party decided in September to hold a caucus, it said it had the potential to get 2,800 voters if every volunteer position were to be filled.

The party fell short of that lofty goal for a number of reasons.

Some of the voters hold two jobs in the party, such as serving in the Legislature and volunteering as a precinct captain. That reduced the number of voting positions, said Chris Wilcox, party executive director.

And he said the party never expected to get a volunteer in each and every precinct.

The party started with 415 precinct captains in the fall and now has 1,133.

“In terms of growth in the party, it is a tremendous success,” Wilcox said. “We’re remarkably better than where we started, and remarkably better than what we’ve seen in recent election years.”

The GOP developed the new caucus as a way to build its base and attract attention from the presidential campaigns, and party leaders were pleased to see a big attendance increase at the winter convention.

While no presidential candidates have visited since the caucus was designed, the family of candidates Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul have campaigned in the state. Romney’s wife Ann will be in Missoula on Friday.

And the campaigns have been actively contacting eligible voters in the caucus, many of whom have received dozens of calls and letters from the campaigns.

Wilcox said Montana would have never received that attention in the past.

Critics of the caucus have said that it is unfair to only let party insiders vote. They have also pointed out that many new volunteers are unlikely to stick around after they get to cast their presidential vote.

Republicans counter that the old primary system really left the decision to the state’s 25 delegates since the June primary is not binding. Now those delegates will have to follow the wishes of the 1,817 caucus voters in a system promoted by party Chairman Erik Iverson.

State Sen. Jeff Essman said he is seeing a lot of new faces and energy at the local level in the party.

“I credit Erik Iverson with a masterful stroke to generate some interest and energy,” he said. “It’s got people out and got people working.”