MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer KALISPELL
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden campaigned Sunday in the heart of conservative Montana, saying the campaign will make good on its pledge to compete in places that have previously spurned national Democrats. Biden, speaking in a county that gave the previous Democratic presidential ticket less than a third of the vote, recognized that Democrats have been shy in the past about asking for their vote. "This is not a place where you traditionally expect to see Democratic candidates run for national office," he said at an afternoon rally. "But in case you didn't notice, Barack Obama has been (to Montana) five times. "Now, they finally thought it was safe enough to risk sending me out here." In 2004, President Bush walloped John Kerry by a margin of 68 percent to 30 percent in Flathead County. But the Obama campaign is not showing any fear about fighting in red states, building an organization that features full-time staff, television advertising and 17 offices some in places that have never seen a Democratic presidential campaign. All this comes in a state that gave Bush nearly 20-point wins in both 2000 and 2004. Biden, however, was able to pack a gym with interested voters on a Sunday afternoon. It was the ticket's second visit to the state in two weeks while Republican presidential candidate John McCain has yet to campaign or set up any significant operation in Montana. The veteran U.S. senator from Delaware pointed to Democrats the state has previously elected to high offices, talking up the success of Gov. Brian Schweitzer and freshman U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Biden also praised legendary Montana U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield, who he credits with pushing him in the right direction early in his political career in the 1970s another era of Democratic Strength in the state. "And it is going to be a Democratic state across the board again," Biden said. Biden told the crowd he has never met anyone in his political career like Obama, calling him the "real deal." "Ladies and gentlemen, this guy is something else. This guy is tapped into the mother lode. He has tapped into a yearning within the American people he shares that is unlike anything else I have ever seen," Biden said. "At every critical time in our history we seem to have the right person with the right temperament delivered to us at the right time. "Barack Obama is the right man." Biden revved up the crowd with a few specifics from the ticket's platform, touching on tax cuts for the middle class, college affordability and plans for a revamped health insurance system. But one of his biggest applause lines came when he talked about the energy issues that have helped propel the state's governor to the national stage. He said Montana has figured out how to accommodate the environment while exporting energy, and said an Obama administration would create jobs by investing a lot of money in new technologies like turning coal into liquid fuel. "We will create 5 million new green jobs that cannot be exported," Biden said. Biden had a couple of zingers for the opposition. "If I walked from here to Bozeman, it would take me a long time. But if I walked to Bozeman I don't think I would run into a single person that thinks the economy is doing good unless I run into John McCain," Biden said. He said both McCain and Palin made a "good political speech" at the Republican Party National Convention but the Republicans won't be able to separate themselves from the Bush legacy. "Everybody talks about change. Let me tell you something, I am fascinated to find out that all of the sudden John McCain and Sarah Palin are the agents of change," Biden said. "Name me one single place where the McCain-Palin ticket disagrees with George Bush?" Montana Republican Party Chairman Erik Iverson predicted Obama won't carry the state, highl ight ing a perceived Democratic weakness on the issue of gun control, which historically has been very important to Montana voters. "This is an extreme antigun ticket," Iverson said of the Democrats. "My guess is that Joe Biden didn't talk a whole lot about that today."