HELENA – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will campaign in Montana next month at an annual dinner held by the state Democratic Party, party officials said.
“We’re incredibly excited,” said party spokesman Kevin O’Brien. “Right now is a great time to be a Democrat in Montana.”
The party says it expects about 4,000 people to attend the April 5 Mansfield-Metcalf event in Butte.
The visits will come two months before Montana’s June 3 primary — one of the last in the nation — as Montana, surprisingly, is a player in the in the Democratic nomination process.
“This is a night that is really going to shine along with our primary in June when the whole world will be watching what Montana does,” O’Brien said.
Democrats will get campaign visits from their party’s two biggest names despite the fact that they avoided last year’s rush by parties in many states to move up their nominating caucuses or primaries.
The Montana Republicans held their first-ever Super Tuesday caucus in February. The party used it to add field organizers and to attract attention from presidential campaigns.
No candidates visited, but the party did receive more attention from the campaigns than in past cycles. The Republicans ended up picking Mitt Romney, right before he dropped out of the race.
State Democrats said they would put 2,400 more tickets for the party dinner up for sale on Monday morning. The first batch of tickets, for floor seats in the Butte Civic Center at the annual Metcalf-Mansfield dinner, had previously sold out. The new tickets would be for stadium seating.
“It is ironic,” O’Brien said. “We are going to have three times amount of the folks in Butte just to see the candidates speak than the Republicans had vote in their caucus.”
But political scientist Craig Wilson pointed out flaws in the Democratic process, too.
He says the state awards 16 delegates apportioned in a system that is not completely representative of population. On top of that, the party’s superdelegates, of which Montana has seven, can vote for whomever they want.
“While the Democrats blasted the Republicans for having an elitist primary, they have problems of their own,” Wilson said.
Still, the Montana Democratic Party says it hopes to play a major role in picking the party’s nominee even though the winner in Montana is unlikely to gain much of an edge on that vote alone since delegates will be split based on vote totals.
But Obama and Clinton are still battling state-by-state to gain momentum as they try to woo key superdelegates.
Montana’s top superdelegates, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, say they are waiting until after the June 3 primary to choose who they will back.
Three of the remaining four state superdelegates are following suit, while one has already chosen to back Obama.
Since Obama and Clinton are traveling to Montana two months prior to the primary, it is reasonable to expect more visits from the candidates as the primary calendar winds down, Wilson said.
Wilson said his polling shows that Obama may have an edge in Montana, particularly among independents who are allowed to vote in the state’s open primary system. Republicans also could choose to vote on the Democratic ticket since the state does not register voters by party.
“I definitely think that in Montana, Obama has the advantage,” Wilson said.
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