When the Montana Republican State Central Committee voted back in August to create a Presidential Preference Caucus on Feb. 5, 2008, we made an educated guess that Super Tuesday essentially would determine the Republican nominee for president. One of the main reasons we decided to hold a Feb. 5 caucus, instead of waiting until the June primary, was to give Montana Republicans a voice in the presidential primary at a time that was relevant. Last week’s announcement by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the winner of Montana’s caucus, that he is suspending his campaign, clearly demonstrates that Feb. 5 was indeed the most relevant day of the Republican primary.
It’s important to note, that at this point, Gov. Romney has said he is “suspending” his campaign and is not “withdrawing” from the race. This is likely a very deliberate choice of words by Gov. Romney because it has bearing on Montana and perhaps other states. For example, under the rules of the Montana caucus, our 25 delegates will remain bound to vote for Gov. Romney on the first ballot until he either officially withdraws from the race or releases his delegates to another candidate. Over the course of the next several days and weeks the Montana Republican Party will be staying in close contact with the Romney campaign regarding the status of Montana’s delegates to the Republican National Convention. The situation facing our state is similar to the one facing many other states as three different Republican candidates have won multiple states and garnered delegates.
This first-of-its-kind Republican caucus was a huge success for Montana Republicans. Not only did we have a voice in the presidential primary process, but the caucus added nearly 800 new Republican Central Committee and precinct captains to our grassroots ranks and raised more than $25,000 for the party. What’s more, the overflow crowds at caucus sites all across the state got to hear directly from Govs. Romney and Huckabee, Congressman Ron Paul and Sen. John McCain during a 45-minute conference call before voting began. And over the course of the campaign, we saw numerous visits to Montana by top campaign surrogates and family members of the candidates. Without a doubt, the Republican caucus brought unprecedented attention to our state.
The success of the Montana Republican caucus will hopefully serve as a catalyst for the 2009 Legislature to take up legislation to move Montana’s June presidential primary, for both Republicans and Democrats, to an earlier date. Similar legislation overwhelmingly passed the Republican-controlled Montana House of Representatives in 2007, but was defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate. June is simply irrelevant in presidential primary politics, and all Montanans, not just Republicans, should be allowed to have a voice in the process when it matters most.
However, if the Legislature does not act on this important issue, then the Montana Republican Party will make plans to once again hold party caucuses for the 2012 presidential election. To be sure, the system we created in 2008 wasn’t perfect, and we’ve got to figure out how to make it possible, both logistically and financially, to include even more Republicans in the voting process. Over the course of the next few months, party officials will be traveling the state conducting listening sessions to gather input on how we can improve the process, and we’ll be talking with Republicans in other states to gather ideas on how to make our process even better next time.
The excitement, energy and interest created by the Republican caucus proved that Montana matters in presidential politics, but only if we stand up and demand that our voices be heard. On Super Tuesday, Montana Republicans did just that when they crowded into hotel ballrooms, senior centers, Elks lodges, restaurants and even private homes to directly participate in democracy — something that should make all Montanans proud.
Erik Iverson is the chairman of the Montana Republican Party