Montanans of all political stripes are watching closely the Republican race for president.
There is a wild and wooly contest that involves several candidates of varying political persuasions seeking the right to oppose President Barack Obama in November 2012 — more than a year from now.
Despite the intense interest in Montana, one thing is clear — Montana Republicans will have no say whatsoever in deciding who the Republican nominee is.
And, as long as Americans continue with the cockamamie system we have of selecting presidential nominees, Montana Democrats will be shut out of the process in four years when there likely will be a vigorous race for the Democratic nomination.
The reason is that both parties have been intimidated by the vigorous actions of the state of New Hampshire that demands it be the first state to hold a primary.
If another state sets its primary date before New Hampshire's, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner invokes the state's peculiar law that prohibits the state from holding its primary date after any other state.
You see, Gardner alone has the authority to set the date of the New Hampshire primary, and he can wait as long as necessary to ensure that no one else goes first.
Thus, the bedlam the primary process is in.
Gardiner, a New Hampshire legend who has been in office more than three decades, says his state may hold the primary this year in December, right in the middle of the Christmas season, because other states won't delay their primaries.
And if other states move their primaries earlier, New Hampshire may set its primary for, well, any day now.
After the New Hampshire voting, a couple of other states may have relevant primaries and caucuses. There is jockeying for positions now. After those primaries, party leaders believe, the nomination will have been sewn up.
Residents in the other 40-plus states will have nothing to say about who the GOP nominee is. The candidate selection process will be a spectator sport, much like the baseball playoffs.
There are a variety of remedies for the present mess.
Congress can determine that it will determine when the primaries will be held.
Political parties could show some backbone and set up the primary dates based on fairness instead of tradition.
A series of regional primaries could be set up. For instance, all Northwest states would hold their primary on a certain date, giving our voters some say in the final result. A different region could hold the primary first in each election cycle.
New Hampshire has had a stranglehold on the nomination process for nearly three-quarters of a century now. New England may be a great place, but other parts of the country offer different perspectives, and it would be great if Montana had at least some say in who the presidential nominees will be.