CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Political observers say Gov. Dave Freudenthal will walk a fine line when he gives his first speech in support of Barack Obama — one between keeping up his conservative reputation and dipping a toe in left-leaning national Democratic politics.
Freudenthal is scheduled to speak May 10 at the Montana Democratic Party’s annual Harry S. Truman Dinner in Billings, Mont. Former President Bill Clinton also will speak at the event at Montana State University-Billings, stumping for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Oliver Walter, a dean and political science professor at the University of Wyoming, said Friday that Freudenthal has so far kept distance between himself and the national Democrats.
“I’m almost surprised he’s doing this. But there’s certain benefits if Wyoming can get behind a winner,” Walter said.
A political science instructor at Casper College, Erich Frankland, said the campaigning doesn’t help Freudenthal’s popular independence from Washington politics and policy.
“I’m sure on some of those policy questions that Obama, his stance, is maybe not necessarily strictly pro-Wyoming,” Frankland said. “There’s maybe some dilemmas there.”
But Frankland also suggested that Freudenthal might simply want a resolution in the close race.
“I think now his concern is — like many of the other national Democrats — how long this process is taking is potentially undermining the Democratic presidential candidate,” Frankland said, adding that Freudenthal’s fine line could be backing Obama without offending Wyoming’s many Clinton supporters.
Freudenthal’s office had no comment on his Montana appearance. Wyoming’s northern neighbor holds its Democratic primary on June 3.
Freudenthal will go toe-to-toe next weekend with the person who gave him a critical political boost. Bill Clinton in 1994 appointed Freudenthal U.S. attorney for Wyoming, a job he kept for seven years.
Freudenthal endorsed Obama a month ago. He said that Obama’s intelligence, grasp of Western issues and willingness to get past politics as usual impressed him.
Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman John Millin, an Obama supporter, said he’s glad that Freudenthal will speak on Obama’s behalf and sorry that he won’t be able to attend himself.
“I think Gov. Freudenthal does have a lot of respect in the interior West and his opinion does matter to a lot of people in Montana,” Millin said.
Matt McKenna, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager for Montana, said the former president will stump for his wife much like he did ahead of Wyoming’s Democratic caucuses.
“The president has been an extraordinarily effective surrogate around the country, particularly in rural areas,” he said. “He was obviously very helpful to the campaign in rural Pennsylvania and I think you can look forward to more of the same.”
Obama won seven national delegates and Clinton won five in the Wyoming caucuses March 8.
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