GREAT FALLS – Former President Bill Clinton tried to woo not only voters on behalf of his wife during a four-city stop in Montana on Tuesday, but also the state’s seven undecided superdelegates.
Clinton poked fun at the situation superdelegates suddenly find themselves in. In a close contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, it’s the superdelegates who may ultimately determine the Democratic presidential nominee.
“It is frankly disgusting the way all of us are fawning over these superdelegates,” Clinton said, after being introduced by Dennis McDonald, chair of the state party and a superdelegate.
“Even though I offered to shine his boots on the way over here, I am trying to show some restraint,” Clinton said.
Afterward, McDonald said he had a good laugh over the line but was not inclined to announce a decision.
“The answer is no. I am continuing to staunchly maintain my independence,” McDonald said.
In Montana, 17 pledged delegates will be at stake in the June 3 primary. Only one of the state’s eight superdelegates has committed — to Obama.
Top Democrats like Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have not taken sides, saying they will wait until after the state’s primary. Schweitzer’s staff said the governor did not even plan to meet the former president during the visit.
Bill Clinton began Tuesday in Havre, a rural community in northcentral Montana, then stumped in Great Falls, Helena and Butte, falling further behind schedule at each stop. The event in Helena started about 90 minutes late.
The cities are considered friendly to Democrats, and Clinton took the opportunity to tell voters that his wife is best able to bring the change they want.
He did not mention Obama by name during his speech in Great Falls or Helena, but the comparison was clear.
“She is the person that ought to be the president at this point in our history,” Clinton told the crowd in Great Falls. “You want somebody who won’t forget who you are, and who is a changemaker.”
Montana, unaccustomed to attention from presidential campaigns, is getting a full dose of it.
Clinton’s first stop, Havre, hasn’t seen a president or former president in at least 50 years, locals estimated. The stop allowed Clinton to court Montana’s largest minority — American Indians who tend to vote Democratic.
The former president told tribal leaders in a meeting before his campaign event that the federal government’s relationship with American Indians has deteriorated since he left office and that his wife would work to restore it.
While in Montana, Bill Clinton made sure to mention energy, talking about clean-coal technologies, building more transmission lines and manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars. On the economy, he noted rising gas prices are costing each family a lot more money each year.
“And that will be a lot more in Montana because it’s a lot further from here to there, wherever there is,” Clinton said, drawing laughs from the Great Falls crowd.
The visit came just days ahead of weekend campaign stops planned by Hillary Clinton and Obama, who are locked in a tight race that is forcing them to campaign through the tail-end of the primary calendar.
A Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t carried Montana since 1992, when Bill Clinton was aided by Ross Perot to unseat George H.W. Bush. Clinton received 38 percent, to Bush’s 35 percent and Perot’s 26 percent.
Clinton campaigned in Billings that year, and again in 1995 when he held a town hall meeting televised statewide.
The state has been solid red in presidential elections since. Clinton lost the state in 1996, and Democrats have finished a distant second in 2000 and 2004.
This weekend, the presidential candidates will attend the state party’s annual dinner in Butte.
In Montana, like elsewhere, many rank-and-file Democrats are split between the candidates.
One undecided voter, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, anxiously awaited the speech in Great Falls. Lou Belcher, with a group called Cowboys and Horseman for Christ, said he agrees with the Clintons on health care, energy and global warming.
“But there’s a lot of time yet, and a lot of things can happen between now and June,” Belcher said.
Bill Clinton had a message for the undecideds in Montana, who may be slightly more conservative than in other parts of the country.
“If you elect her, she will drive this country back to those balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility,” he said.
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