Limits of an Open Primary

By Beacon Staff

There are a slew of factors that will be analyzed ad nauseam between now and Tuesday when Montana voters head to the polls. And while national pundits will repeat their talking points in regard to the Democratic presidential primary – categorizing us as working class, rural and college-aged in their prized exit polls – what will likely be overlooked are the local races that influence whether residents fill out a Democratic or Republican ballot. At least in Flathead County, independents are apt to be torn.

In this primary, Flathead independents have a choice: Influence the outcome of the last primary in the longest, most contentious Democratic race in recent memory, or vote between the Republican candidates for county commission, the winner of which will be the frontrunner for one of the most influential posts in the valley.

Of course, there are number of other races, legislative and statewide, on both primary ballots. But none is nearly as high profile as the Democratic presidential race or local GOP commission contest, which pits incumbent Gary Hall against former Flathead sheriff Jim Dupont.

Then there’s the crossover vote. If Flathead Republicans wants to influence the fate of their rivals, as has previously been promoted by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, they will have to live with the possible consequence of their commissioner preference falling short in a tight race. Likewise, if local Democrats want a say in who will likely be the frontrunner for a commission seat in the fall, then they will have to skip voting in what has become a landmark primary between Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The temptation to choose the Democratic ticket will be strong, since after voting you can go home and watch your vote added to the tally on the three cable news networks. But in reality, a vote in the GOP commission race probably means more to your everyday life because whoever wins will be favored to win the powerful post in the conservative-leaning Flathead.

Locally, which ballot’s draw is stronger will be a bigger factor than how the working class voted, but we’ll probably hear more about the latter.