In late May, the Flathead County Republican Central Committee (FCRCC) sent out an email announcing who it was endorsing in the upcoming primary election. That was unsurprising, especially this year when several GOP races attracted multiple candidates. At the end of its list of recommendations, however, was a surprise: the names of three people the committee declared “DO NOT represent Republican Values, Conservative Principles and Republican voters.”
In essence, the local official arm of the Montana Republican Party offered un-endorsements of Flathead County Commission candidate Jack Fallon, House District 7 candidate Courtenay Sprunger and House District 9 candidate Tony Brockman. The irony of all this is that all three of those candidates either won or came to close to winning their respective races (the commission race may be heading to a recount).
How did this happen? For one, Montana has an open primary – meaning anyone can choose to fill out either ballot regardless of party affiliation. Moreover, Flathead County featured far more contested primary races on the GOP side this year. In fact, some races, such as that for the county commission seat, didn’t attract any Democratic candidates at all. So-called crossover voting, which is already common, was even higher than usual this year.
Of the 27,591 ballots turned into the county, a staggering 80% (or 22,061) were cast in the Republican primary compared to 20% (or 5,530) on the Democratic side. To be clear, this region is conservative, but don’t expect the results of contested races in November’s general election to be quite so lopsided.
In 2018, 17,665 Flathead County residents (or 74%) voted in the Republican primary for county commission, compared to just 6,233 in the Democratic primary. In the general election that year the GOP county commission candidate won with 63% of the vote, a notably smaller margin.
A series of advertisements paid for by Flathead First, a local political action committee, even told local residents that “smart voters vote in the (Republican) primary.” The group pointed to the number of races with no Democratic challengers and endorsed those who could be perceived as the more moderate candidates in contested GOP primaries. Those endorsements included Fallon, Sprunger and Brockman.
The PAC may have had an impact, but the local Republican Party didn’t do itself any favors. Denouncing longtime locals who have served on or chaired various boards, from the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce to Kalispell Public Schools, as unworthy members of the GOP is a bad look.
Especially when you consider the following: While a so-called “vetting committee” determined Sprunger does “not represent the Republican Party” and is backed by special interest groups “who typically support Democrat Party candidates,” Sprunger received the full-throated endorsement of the Republican who currently represents House District 7, former Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner.
He wrote: “As I reach the end of my service due to term limits it is important to me to participate in a thoughtful transition to someone that has a heart for service … The person that I trust and support to be your next representative is Courtenay Sprunger.”
Yet she was still included on list of Republicans that are not Republican enough. Perhaps there is more to these results than just crossover voting.
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