Monday, June 2, 2008

Charles Johnson needs to pay a little more attention

We realize that all of the attention these days is on the Democratic Presidential primary, but allow us to suggest to the usually precise Charles Johnson of Lee Newspapers that if he is going to mention the Republican primary in the midst of the Democratic hoopla, he should get the story straight.

Here is his throwaway passage taking note of the Republican Presidential primary, only to dismiss it:

On the Republican side, the names of John McCain, the presumptive nominee, and Ron Paul, will appear on the ballot Tuesday, but the results are meaningless. The state Republican Party held a Feb. 5 caucus of 1,600 party and elected officials, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney winning the state's 25 delegate votes. He dropped out of the race shortly thereafter.

The results will be meaningless? One can admittedly make a case for it, but not for any of the reasons that Johnson includes in this passage. To the extent that the Montana Presidential primary can be said to be meaningless, it has nothing at all to do with the Montana GOP caucus. Why? Because the winner of that caucus, Mitt Romney, dropped out (as Johnson correctly notes.)

This means that every single one of Montana's Presidential delegates are again completely up for grabs.

There is a case to be made for the Montana GOP primary being meaningless. For instance, Sen. John McCain has had the Republican nomination sewn up for months. In that sense, Montana's primary will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the nomination. Just like the Montana GOP primary in every other year.

One could also make the case that the primary is "meaningless" because the delegates themselves are actually selected at the state convention by delegates chosen at individual county conventions. Again -- just like always. Nothing new. The Montana presidential primary has always been a non-binding "beauty contest."

But on the other hand, one would be hard pressed to find an example where the majority of Montana's delegates to the RNC didn't go to the winner of the Montana presidential primary. So the primary has historically been pretty binding, as a practical matter. As Montana Headlines pointed out recently, from a historical standpoint, we should be able to feel pretty confident that Montana Republicans choosing between Sen. McCain and Congressman Ron Paul will indeed determine the makeup of the Montana delegation to the RNC convention in Minneapolis in September.

But Johnson doesn't make either of those legitimate cases for the GOP primary being "meaningless," but instead refers to the caucus, which has no bearing whatsoever on whether the 2008 Montana primary is meaningful or not.

Mr. Johnson has probably forgotten more about Montana politics than Montana Headlines will ever know, and he -- without question -- sets the bar for fair, solid political reporting in Montana. But in this case, he seems to have neglected to do something very basic -- fact-check. A simple call to the Montana GOP HQ asking them "is your June presidential primary meaningless because of the caucus?" would (we hope) have revealed something very different from what Mr. Johnson wrote.

And quite frankly, more interesting as well. A weak McCain showing in the primary against Ron Paul could, for instance, be a sign both to Obama and to the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr that Montana is a good place to expend resources in hopes of a repeat of 1992, when Bill Clinton stole the state with a narrow plurality when a Republican center-right candidate (Bush I) and an independent libertarian right-wing populist (Perot) split the remainder of the vote.

The Presidential primaries between John McCain and Ron Paul may be meaningless in other states, but with Montana's quirky political climate and large numbers of libertarian-leaning swing voters who are not given to reflexive loyalty to any party, June 3rd is going to give us plenty of tea-leaves to read. And the results will be meaningful.

Think about it: the Democrats seem to have nominated another George McGovern, while the Republicans can be fairly said to have nominated another Bob Dole. Now that will be a cage match for the ages -- especially in an unpredictable state like Montana, whose voters will likely have trouble getting excited about either of these candidates.


Update: Carol, over at Missoulapolis, has already posted on this matter, graciously pointing out the Montana Headlines discussion on the very real relevancy of the Montana Presidential primary on the GOP side.

Her commentary is must reading -- especially the part where she tactfully implies what we will now state with brutal directness: the McCain campaign has been completely MIA in Montana. We had hoped that when Sen. Burns took titular control of the McCain campaign shortly before the caucus, that this would be the start of seeing some real organization in the state. We had hoped to see John McCain at our state convention or doing a short tour of Montana this spring or early summer, knowing that he will be tied up with bigger swing states later in the season.

Maybe something is going on behind the scenes, but if so, it is the ultimate stealth campaign. Bumper stickers for McCain are rare. Yard signs in Billings are non-existent -- probably because one would need to go to the McCain store and buy them for $20 a pop. Hello?


Addendum number 2: Someone in the Gazette comments section again mentions something that pops up wherever Ron Paul supporters are making their case. The individual claims that since Ron Paul came in second in the Montana caucus and since Romney dropped out, Paul should receive Montana's delegates.

Only one problem with that. Such a provision was never in the Montana GOP rules, and it would be quite surprising to learn that any state has any such rule. When someone drops out, rules usually either stipulate that the candidate dropping out can direct the delegates to the candidate of his choice -- or that they simply return to being uncommitted. In Montana's case, there is no provision for Romney to direct them to McCain, so the delegates are up for grabs.

What Paul did at the February caucus is irrelevant at this point -- after all, had Romney dropped out of the race prior to the Montana caucus, would any of Romney's votes in that caucus have gone to Ron Paul? Highly doubtful. The question is whether he can perform well enough in the Montana primary to justify giving him any delegates to the RNC this fall.


Steve said...

McCain is running? Could of fooled me, what with all of his signs, and people going door to door.

Montana Headlines said...

That's pretty much what I said in my post -- we're in agreement on that point.

lamnidae said...

Why aren't you calling out Andy Hammond while you're at it?

Montana Headlines said...

You obviously haven't been reading Montana Headlines. I said my piece about what I thought of Operation Chaos some time ago, and have expounded on it in passing in a couple subsequent posts. Do your homework.