A Big Sky Welcome for the Candidates

By Beacon Staff

Montanans love a good show. They don’t take it for granted. When big-name bands make a rare stop in the Treasure State, tickets sell out fast and fans scream like it’s the only chance they’ll ever get to see such a show, which may be true, at least close to home. So forgive me for comparing politics and rock and roll, but this Big Sky enthusiasm seeps into the political arena, as evidenced by last weekend’s hoopla surrounding Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Personally, I can only comment on the Obama speech in Missoula, as that’s the only appearance of either Democratic presidential candidate that I attended. At Obama’s speech, I expected an exuberant audience, but when I showed up at the Adams Center with my notebook and coffee at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, I didn’t expect the line to already be snaking around several blocks.

Furthermore, I anticipated lively cheering inside the Adams Center, but I wasn’t ready for a well-orchestrated rendition of the Wave – the collective rising and falling of fans usually seen at athletic events. That was a half-hour before Obama even came onstage. The buzz inside the arena truly caught me off guard and I decided to ditch my coffee.

People like to be a part of history. They want to have those “I was there” stories to tell their kids. It’s natural. But people who live in states like New York, Florida, California or dozens of others can afford to pick and choose their events. For Montanans, that luxury isn’t available. When two candidates who have the chance to either be the first black or first woman president in U.S. history pass through the state, a lot of people have a hard time dismissing the opportunity.

Tears can be expected at political rallies. So can piercing shrieks. So can long lines. But the atmosphere at the Adams Center was appropriately and uniquely Montanan. The shrieks hurt your ears. The tears came from a grizzled man wearing Carhartts, an American Indian woman holding her baby, a high school student there of his own accord. A college student slept on a piece of cardboard under the falling snow to make sure he was first in line in the morning. Some people drove hundreds of miles to be there.

Regardless of your politics, the visits were seminal moments in Montana’s political timeline. At Obama’s speech, it was clear that people understood that.

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