Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Steve Daines -- the right stuff

One of the hardest things in modern Republican politics is finding strong candidates who have the right stuff: 1. A talent for being able to campaign effectively (and for statewide offices, preferably some experience at it,) 2. Sufficient drive and stamina for seeing a physically and emotionally grueling campaign through to the end, and 3. Enough life experience to have gained the tools necessary to actually be worth electing. Even among conservatives who are engaged with the issues of the day and who care enough about them to have an opinion, is is uncommon for the most talented to be interested enough in politics to take a break from whatever it is they are succeeding at in life.

This isn't to say that Democrats are universally willing to set aside careers in the private sector to run for office, but it is to say that someone genuinely committed to the general priorities of the left will have formed habits of mind that think of government service as a high calling, if not the highest of callings. That just isn't true of most people who are genuinely committed to the general priorities of the right, especially absent some sort of family tradition of political involvement and public service.

While both parties regularly succeed in putting up candidates who have two of the three, sometimes getting them elected when the political tides are ebbing or flowing in the right direction, it is nice when the stars align and we get what appears to be the total package. Such seems to be the case for Montana Republicans in our U.S. Congressional race, where we have Steve Daines as what the Billings Gazette calls "the prohibitive favorite" in the upcoming three-way GOP primary. There is plenty of time between now and the fall to address the issues in this campaign, so for now just a few political comments.

Montana Republicans got to know Daines during the last gubernatorial campaign, when he was State Sen. Roy Brown's running mate in what both had to know would be a long-shot campaign to unseat Gov. Schweitzer. While the ticket went down to defeat, they ran a hard-working campaign that kept the Schweitzer campaign and the Montana Democratic Party busy enough to prevent them from dumping all of their resources into state legislative races. The end result was that the GOP re-captured the State Senate, and held the Democrats to a tie in the House -- given the national flood in 2008 that swept Democrats into every office from President down to the proverbial county dog-catcher, all Republicans were swimming upstream, and indeed, the Montana Senate was, as we recall, the only state legislative body in the entire country to change hands from Democrat to Republican that year, while every other state either saw Republicans losing control of legislative bodies or simply clinging to an existing majority.

Daines and Roy Brown deserve a great deal of credit for that accomplishment by Montana Republicans. They were linemen, throwing hard blocks that allowed the running back to sneak through for a first down. It is therefore not surprising that, unlike our wide-open governor's race, no-one of stature in the Montana GOP jumped into the race to challenge Daines for the seat being vacated by Congressman Rehberg. Daines got a nice fundraising jump by initially declaring for the U.S. Senate race against Sen. Tester, then stepping aside when Rehberg announced his intent to run -- this was a politically sophisticated move that bodes well for Daines's ability to navigate political waters. It would be naive to suggest that anyone stayed out of the race through respectful deference to Daines, but the Republican bench is not particularly deep with people with recent experience in running a high-profile state-wide campaign. Daines had that experience -- plus the right stuff, and one suspects that other would-be Congressmen decided to take a pass on trying to take him on in a primary.

Presumably if there were any skeletons in the closet, the thorough Schweitzer campaign would have rattled them out 4 years ago, so what remains at this point is for Daines to campaign tirelessly through to the November election, the results of which, one hopes, will give him the opportunity to prove to Montanans that he has the right stuff where it matters most -- representing our state with distinction in Washington.

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