Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Montana GOP Caucus begins to get some press

And it took a Ron Paul "hook" to get the press interested, it seems.

The article starts out with a Ron Paul supporter finding out how easy it was so get into a precinct position in his county, and thus get a vote in the GOP presidential caucus.

The state party is aware of the risks.

"You don't want one campaign who just happens to be the first in the state to stack the deck," said Chris Wilcox, GOP executive director. "And in terms of building a Republican party, we don't want people who are just going to come in and cast a vote and take off."

Indeed. The danger from the start in this caucus was that it seems to have been an idea that was hatched around the same time that Mitt Romney came to Montana for the GOP State Convention. The Romney campaign was the first to be organized in the state (for many months, the only campaign to be organized in the state,) and it has been very active in encouraging Romney supporters to volunteer for precinct positions.

Romney will probably win the Montana caucus by a large margin because of the attention that campaign has paid to the state, and the paid organization that it has applied to Montana. As such, the caucus risks looking like a setup that was designed to hand the state to Romney. Would Romney win a Feb. 5 formal primary? We'll never know.

If anything, the influx of Ron Paul people is to the benefit of the Romney campaign, since Paul will be the bogeyman. Everyone will be worried about Paul's people stacking the deck, even while it is the Romney organization that has for months quietly been laying the groundwork for sweeping the caucus before other campaigns even noticed Montana.

There's nothing wrong with any of this -- whether from Paul or Romney -- the whole idea to caucuses is to encourage grassroots involvement by party members (see Iowa for further details.) The campaign that works the hardest to win a state deserves to win it -- or at least have a good shot at winning it.

The key factor for the success of this Montana Republican caucus is exactly what Wilcox points out -- will those who are rapidly filling precinct positions around the state stick around and work for the party? We'll find out -- and it is by no means a given that all of the freshly minted Romney supporters in precinct positions around the state are going to be more active grassroots workers for the state GOP and its candidates in 2008 than will Ron Paul's supporters.

If the vast majority of precinct positions are filled by people who do stick around and work, and the grassroots organization of the party becomes infused with fresh and enthusiastic volunteers, then the caucus will have been a strategic success for party chairman Erik Iverson, and a big win for the Montana GOP.

If not, well, there will doubtless be calls to do something different next Presidential election cycle. One thing is certain -- having Montana Republicans cast their irrelevant votes in June of 2008, long after the presidential nomination has usually been decided, accomplishes nothing for the party.

It is ironic that in this particular year there are credible scenarios that could actually leave no candidate with a majority of delegates going into the convention -- if that happens, this might actually have been a year when we might have seen all of the remaining candidates personally flying into Montana and campaigning hard for votes in a June primary. In other words, the caucus, in that scenario, could actually lead to less attention than Montana might otherwise have received.

Given that Montana doesn't allow for registration of voters by party, and given that the GOP's attempt to pass legislation providing for a Feb. 5th presidential primary were blocked, options for how to come up with a delegate selection process that would be relevant more years than not are limited. It has been an idea worth trying -- and the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.

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