BUTTE – Gov. Brian Schweitzer enthusiastically welcomed Barack Obama to Montana for a parade and “family” picnic on Friday, and predicted the Democratic presidential candidate will carry the state in November.
Obama watched Butte’s Fourth of July parade with his family, before hosting a free picnic for supporters. Obama is making history by waging a fight with Republican John McCain for Montana’s three electoral votes. The state has mostly been ignored in past presidential contests.
Obama pitched a message of independence — including freedom from oil companies and drug companies — to the crowd. Because of security concerns he did not walk in the Butte parade, a traditional stop for state Democrats.
“This is the first parade where I haven’t walked,” he said. “If I walked, the Secret Service would make everyone put their hands up.”
Obama’s appearance Friday in Montana marked his fourth visit to the state during his campaign. Schweitzer said that alone probably is enough to push him over McCain, who has not set up a campaign operation in the state.
Schweitzer and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., stood on stage at a picnic of some 2,000 and introduced Obama.
“He is going to win in Montana because he has already been in Montana more than anybody who has run for president in 50 years,” Schweitzer told reporters.
Montana is tough territory for Democratic presidential candidates. Only two have carried the state since 1948.
But Schweitzer said Montanans are libertarian thinkers and Obama has a chance to sway them.
“We don’t like the Republican version of telling us what to do, we don’t like the Democratic version of telling us what to do,” Schweitzer said.
Obama gave a shortened version of his stump speech before a crowd that gathered at Montana Tech to eat hamburgers and hot dogs with him.
“I don’t want to spoil a good July Fourth picnic with a long speech,” he said.
Obama decried the country’s reliance on foreign oil and said the current energy policy hampers families confronted with high fuel prices. He criticized health-care systems and pitched his message of change.
“That’s the kind of independence we need to declare today,” Obama said. “Most of all we need to declare independence from a foreign policy that has not made us safer, but has diminished our standing around the world.”
Butte, a Democratic stronghold in Montana, ate up its chance to see a presidential candidate at the city’s parade. A Republican float was met with a chant of “Obama.”
Officials estimated a crowd perhaps twice the usual size.
Sharon Chebul of Butte said she had never seen anything like it.
“It’s telling us that even our little towns like Butte mean something,” she said. “We can make a difference.”
Obama planned to spend Friday night in Montana, after a stay Thursday night in a Butte hotel. He was scheduled to leave the state on Saturday.
Schweitzer said he does not expect Obama to return — even though Democrats would love to see him at the party’s summer convention in Miles City — because the presidential candidates will have to visit other places.
“How hard do you work for three” electoral votes? Schweitzer asked. “He’s probably overspent his time in Montana.”
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