MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) Republican presidential candidate John McCain has picked Montana Lt . Gov. John Bohlinger to serve as chairman of the presidential candidate's campaign here in the state. Bohlinger, a Republican who ran on what was billed as a split ticket with Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2004 and is doing so again for 2008, has drawn the ire of the Montana Republican Party. The state GOPs say they aren't sure Bohlinger is a real Republican for helping the opposition. But McCain welcomed Bohlinger's endorsement of his campaign for the Oval Office. "I am grateful to have John's support," McCain said in a release. "He is a proven leader in his community who has courageously served our country in the United States Marine Corps. I look forward to his counsel in the weeks ahead." Montana Re p u b l i c an Pa r t y Chairman Erik Iverson said he believes that Bohlinger should now help Montana Republicans win office. "We need all hands on deck as we work to make sure the Republican Party has a governing majority in Montana after the 2008 elections," Iverson said. "I look forward to working with John to garner similar endorsements for Montana Republicans running for office at the local and statewide level." The Montana Republicans hold a caucus in February to make their pick for the GOP presidential candidate. The caucus is open only to the 3,000 or so people who a position in the Montana Republican Party. Bohlinger, a state senator from Bi l l ings prior to running wi th Schweitzer, said he decided to endorse McCain because the Arizona senator is the best prepared. "His lifetime of service to our great nation and his courage and leadership on tough issues prove he is a man of unmatched integrity and make him the best Republican to win in the general election next November," Bohlinger said. "I am proud to support him for president." Schweitzer has not endorsed anyone yet. He said Wednesday he has no immediate plans to do so. "I'm keeping my powder dry,"Schweitzer said. Last summer, the Montana Republicans denied Bohlinger entrance to the party's convention. They said Bohlinger asked to attend after the registration deadline. They also said they did not consider Bohlinger a Republican any more. But earlier this month, the Montana GOP asked Bohlinger to attend the Republican Winter Kickoff in January so that they could quiz him about policy differences they have with the administration. Bohlinger, who is getting remarried, said he will be out of the country on his honeymoon and will not be able to attend.