Thursday, February 7, 2008

Notes on the Montana GOP caucus

As MH predicted, it Romney won solidly. And as we noted more recently, it was not as big of a win as we had earlier predicted. It was not the kind of landslide that he had in Wyoming or Nevada.

The results of the caucus were basically in direct proportion to the amount of organizational effort that went into the state -- with one exception, and that is that McCain greatly overperformed, considering the absence of any McCain campaign efforts during the time that organization could make a difference. This shows the fundamental strength that McCain has in Montana, and it means that regardless of the Democratic nominee and regardless of how many Republicans are drinking the Ann Coulter "I'm going to campaign for Hillary if McCain is nominated" Koolaid, McCain should handily win Montana in the fall.

Perhaps more encouragingly, when one adds up the McCain and Huckabee votes, it can be said that nearly a half of the caucus voters (who can be assumed to be at least somewhat representative of the party base) doesn't pay any attention to the opinions of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, choosing rather to think for themselves.

The caucus, at least in Yellowstone County, was a pretty pumped-up affair. One is reminded of the strength of caucusing when it comes to party-building. It would be nice to have party registration so we could have caucuses in every precinct in the state -- but we'll probably have to wait a little while longer for that.

Montana's 25 delegates were certainly sought-after by the campaigns. Had all the campaigns been tuned in as early as the Romney camp was to how the caucuses were going to work, we would have seen even more activity by the candidates over the last year. It was nice to know that candidates were having to pay enough attention to Montana to have staffers studying issues of importance to Montana Republicans, crafting literature and phone messages to pitch their message to Montana caucus-goers.

And it can only be good for Montana to have Montana Republican leaders making connections with candidates and top-level staffers of the various campaigns at a time when those campaigns are actually paying attention and at a time when they are grateful for every bit of support that they can lap up.

For decades, Montana politicians have been left out of this kind of networking that connects our leaders closely to those who are or will become leaders in the national party -- or perhaps residents of the White House.

Now, two things remain -- to capitalize on all of the grassroots party building that has resulted from the caucus; and to do an evaluation of what worked, what didn't, and how things can be improved upon next time.

And we certainly hope that there will be a next time. There are lots of ways to keep this going, and we have suggested some ideas, such as making the June primary binding on the second and subsequent ballots of a convention. Another way would be to have the caucuses assign some of Montana's delegates, and the primary assign others. Yet another would be to have the caucuses be non-binding (which means we could have them even earlier without penalty, but with the reward of having them bring attention and "Montana front-runner status" to the winner.)

It may be old-fashioned to say so, but we have really lost something by making primaries ubiquitous in the delegate selection process. Political parties, with the tempering effect they can have on the political process by forcing broad coalitions to form, have lost influence. And as a result, our politics has become more viciously partisan, not less so.

So, we'll leave it on that old-fashioned note. We look forward to the 2012 Montana Presidential GOP caucuses.


Doug said...

"it can be said that nearly a half of the caucus voters...doesn't pay any attention to the opinions of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, choosing rather to think for themselves."

Do you intend to imply that the only voters who thought for themselves are voters who chose McCain or Huck? I'm not going to vote for Hillary, but I'm sure as hell not going to vote for McCain either.

Anonymous said...

I might have missed something, but I don't recall reading anything about John Bohlinger speaking at a caucus. After all the fuss that the press made about his being able to speak on McCain's behalf, did he do it?

I am guessing that he did not show up, or else the press would have done a story quoting him. Likewise, if for some reason Republicans had tried to prevent him from speaking, that would have been the top story in all the papers, wouldn't it?

But shouldn't it also be a story if he didn't bother to show? Or even if he did show up but didn't want to speak?

I'm not a delegate, so I don't know what happened, but it is bizarre that the press made such a big deal out of this and then failed to say what happened. What do your sources say?

Farmer Lawyer said...

So what happens now that Romney is out? Does Ron Paul (2nd place right?) get the delegates? That'd be a big bit of news for him . . .

Mike said...

I think a lot of Republican voters are really pissed off at the lack of communication of this new process. We had people at our caucus that had just found out about it and they were not happy. I'm not sure it helped the Republican Party in Montana that much. 100% of the people that I talked to in late November and early December had not heard of the change.

I do like your ideas of some delegates being assigned in the caucus and some in the Primary or making the caucus non-binding and assigning based on the Primary. Do we need to have both?

I'll toss out another idea - when the candidate that wins the caucus "suspends" or drops out, all the delegates go to the next person in line that is still in the race. :-)

My preference would be to not have it winner take all. 625 people voted for Romney but 1000 people voted otherwise. Doesn't make sense to have it all go to Romney.

Mike said...

Doug - I agree.

I will not vote for McCain.

If the Republicans insist on running a pro-war candidate, with 70% of the population against the war, they deserve what they get in November.

Seems that 73% more Dems voted Tuesday than Reps - could be an indication of what will happen in November.

Montana Headlines said...

By no means -- I'm sure most voters thought for themselves.

But Limbaugh et al told us that either Huckabeee or McCain would destroy the Republican party.

And anyone who didn't hear them yelling this repeatedly would have to be living under a rock.

Anyone who participated in the caucus is by definition a more active than average party member who cares about the GOP.

By choosing to vote for Huckabee or McCain, these people who care about their party by definition demonstrated that they were not letting certain conservative pundits define for them who is conservative and what is good for the Republican party.

Montana Headlines said...

Mike -- Communication about the caucus could certainly have been better.

One would hope that the Montana GOP would learn from this process and do better next time.

The advantage to having a caucus is that it is a party building and rallying event that a primary can't replicate. I hope that we still have some sort of caucus in the future.

Farmer Lawyer -- Romney has not formally dropped out, so the Montana delegates are still bound to him until he withdraws or releases them to another candidate.

I think that the reason it is winner take all is that it makes a small state more worth competing for. The downside to a winner-take-all process is that candidates who don't think they have a chance in that state will ignore it completely.

What some states do is make the process winner-take-all if a certain threshold is crossed (usually 50%) but proportionate if no candidate wins more than that amount. That might be something to think about.

But with only 25 delegates, we have to make it enough to be worth their competing here.

One hopes that we will get more delegates next time -- with a new Republican governor in Roy Brown and and both a Republican controlled state Senate and House, Montana will get more delegates next time!

Mike said...

"By no means -- I'm sure most voters thought for themselves."

I think a lot of them voted their religion.

Montana Headlines said...

People have the right to vote based on whatever reasoning they choose to use.

CRLHermit said...

It would be good PR to have a statement from the Central Committee regarding the status of the delegates now that Romney have suspended his campaign.
Sad to say, the caucus caught many unaware.

Mike said...

"People have the right to vote based on whatever reasoning they choose to use."

Absolutely true

Montana Headlines said...

Romney has suspended his campaign, but has not withdrawn from the race. So Montana's delegates are still committed to him on the first ballot at the convention.

I'm not sure why anyone thinks this is such a big deal. Montana's delegates committed to Romney are no different from Iowa delegates committed to Romney, New Hampshire delegates committed to Romney, Michigan delegates committed to Romney, etc.

There will always be delegates who are committed to voting for someone who is going to lose at the convention.

You don't see Ron Paul supporters agitating to have him give up his handful of delegates just because he doesn't have a chance at winning the nomination -- nor should they. These candidates earned the delegates committed to them, and it is their decision whether to withdraw and release them or not.