Turnout Like 2008

Democrats must encourage 2008 vote turnout levels if it expects to keep governing the state

By Mike Jopek

Whether Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination, or whether Donald Trump or former Gov. Jeb Bush becomes the Republican nominee likely makes a sizeable difference to voter turnout.

Traditionally, Montana is a flyover state with little attention given to our 3 electoral votes. That was hardly the case in 2008 as Clinton lost the state in a June primary to President Barack Obama. Sen. John McCain was the GOP primary winner after losing to former Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul in the Montana Republican state caucuses earlier that year.

2008 was an exciting year for Montana politics, with Clinton and Obama campaigning across the state. First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton all held events in the Flathead. The Obama campaign opened one of its multiple statewide campaign offices in Whitefish.

Even with all that presidential hoopla, the 2008 primary vote turnout was 45 percent that June yet ballooned to 74 percent in the November general election. 2008’s turnout was larger than the general vote turnouts of 56 percent in 2010, 72 percent in 2012, or 55 percent in 2014.

A Democrat hasn’t won Montana’s electoral votes since 1992 when Bill Clinton triangulated President George H. Bush and Ross Perot with a 79 percent voter turnout.

If we’re lucky, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will campaign in Montana this year. Primaries are good; we expect candidates to earn the vote by campaigning locally, not solely on television.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire turned out remarkable numbers of voters.

If the first caucus and primary was an indicator, the bases of both parties are enthused yet divided in half. The national anti-establishment fervor is as strong on the Democratic side as it has been with Republicans. Half the Democrats wanted Obama to go much further while more than half the Republicans feel Obama went way too far.

The power of governing the middle fomented many of the compromises over the decades by presidents from Obama to Ronald Reagan and beyond.

It’s that political middle that allowed last year’s Montana Legislature to accept federal Medicaid dollars to help purchase private health insurance for 27,000 statewide citizens living in poverty.

That political middle also passed state laws assuring that campaign spending is transparent. It balanced a state budget keeping plenty of rainy-day funds in the bank for emergencies like last summers’ forest fires.

Freshman state representatives like Frank Garner of Kalispell and Zac Perry of Hungry Horse found much of this common ground in Helena. They’re both facing tough political opponents this fall.

Much of Montana’s political excitement for June’s primary and November’s general elections will come from statewide campaigns like those of Gov. Steve Bullock and rival Greg Gianforte, Rep. Ryan Zinke and challenger State Superintendent Denise Juneau.

Democrats announced that Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin would keynote the 38th Annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner this March. Baldwin is an excellent choice, for the post Super-Tuesday event.

Both Clinton and Obama attended the 2008 dinner. Clinton and Sanders should make time and travel to Montana to earn June votes. That seems like a long shot.

Montana Democrats must encourage 2008 vote turnout levels if it expects to keep governing the state with a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Republicans have mounted aggressive campaigns statewide, putting forward credible candidates to try and gain control of the offices of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and superintendent of schools.

From now to June and onward to November, there’s plenty of election squabbles ahead.

Hopefully candidates will put forward positive plans on how best to make our government work better for us all. Voters routinely turn out for candidates, who they believe are on their side.

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