HELENA – The Republican convention last weekend in Missoula was led by calls for unity — and for good reason.
The party has a U.S. Senate nominee it doesn’t really want, hundreds of newcomers who support a man who is not the presumptive presidential nominee and three state lawmakers who are waging write-in candidacies after losing in the Republican primary.
Chairman Erik Iverson had his hands full heading into the convention. In the end, he may have gotten just what he wanted.
All the buzz surrounding the fight for national convention delegates created the first state convention in a long time that anyone really cared about. And all the supporters of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, largely new to official party functions, helped the party raise a lot of money.
The Paul supporters said other states had excluded them, and they expected rough treatment in Montana. Instead, they were welcomed. Paul was even given the Friday night keynote speaking slot.
“There were some states that wouldn’t have me at all,” Paul told the crowd.
In the end, the state’s 22 delegates to the Republican National Convention were awarded to McCain, but Paul’s supporters said they still planned to stay active in the party.
Largely disaffected with Republicans in Washington D.C., they said they felt more at home among Montana Republicans. On the state level, there is little division on policy between them and longtime party activists.
With the help of the Paul supporters, the state GOP set records for attendance and raised more money than it normally does in two or three summer conventions combined. Most importantly, the GOP enlisted hundreds of potential volunteers and donors.
The Paul supporters were on everyone’s mind — and could help the GOP in November. State candidates made sure to make their case.
“Ron Paul supporters, I have three words: Join the Roy-volution,” said Roy Brown, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the fall. His comment was a play on the “Ron Paul Revolution” rallying cry.
Meanwhile, the party largely ignored or pushed to the side any signs of dissension.
Inexplicable GOP U.S. Senate nominee Bob Kelleher, a former Green Party candidate, was given a side room at the convention, and few Republicans took the time to meet with him.
There was no mention of Roger Koopman, the state lawmaker who advocated the ouster of “socialist” Republican lawmakers. Three of those identified by Koopman as such were knocked out in the primary and are now running as write-ins.
One of the lawmakers, John Ward of Helena, vowed in an interview that he would not “be forced out by rotten apples.”
Ward’s candidacy could have the effect of splitting the conservative vote and giving the seat to the Democrats — something Republicans will have to work against.
For his part, Koopman has continued his crusade, penning a newspaper column last week in which he lampooned the Republican Party’s call for inclusiveness as “a lawn party for liberals.”
Iverson acknowledged the convention might not have followed a perfect script — but there was a lot more interest because of it. He said he will take arguments about ideas and candidates, along with new party members.
“This is the sort of party we need to have. It needs to be dynamic,” Iverson said. “You know what, sometimes things don’t go according to script when it is like that.”
Iverson said it’s all necessary in order for Republicans to regain their status as the majority party in Montana.
“It’s OK to come in and criticize the party. It makes us better,” Iverson said.
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