Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

The year in review: The Red Wave

 


Year in Review

2010: Republican wave hits the Hi-Line

2011: Both parties look to the future

Republicans lock up traditionally blue Hill, Blaine counties

In a mirror of the state and national elections, Republican and independent candidates swept their Democratic opponents in Hill and Blaine counties in the November elections.

The trouncing of the Democrats is even more impressive in this region, a traditionally Democratic area with a strong union presence, but that didn't even help the union candidates in the election.

Hill County Democratic Chair John Musgrove said his party has a long road ahead of it — the intensity of the Republicans on a national level is going to continue, especially with the Republican minority leader in the U.S. Senate saying the party's next goal is to oust President Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.

"I don't think it's going to stop," Musgrove said.

Traditional Democratic

victories

In a two-county region where seeing more than five or six Republicans in office on any level was unusual, the Democrats were thrashed on Nov. 2, losing every contested election in the local, state and national races.

While Republicans have held offices, including Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, former Republican Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Republican Rep. Merlin Wolery of Rudyard, Republican legislator Bob Sivertsen and Havre' Stan Stephens, a Republican state senator before serving two terms as governor, the region has never seen a sweep like this year.

And the change comes after two years of Democratic successes that also mirrored much of the nation, including Obama's win in 2008. Despite losing a traditionally Democratic seat to Warburton, Rep. Bob Bergren was re-elected to his fourth term in 2008, Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, was elected to his first term and Jonathan Windy Boy, an incumbent representative, won his first term as a state senator.

In 2009, the Democrats picked up victories in the Havre election with Tim Solomon unseating Rice in his try for a third term, and also regained one of the two Republican city council seats up for re-election.

That success ended in November.

Blue turns to red

The Republicans turned the Democratic majority around this year. Warburton defeated Democratic challenger Dana Sapp Seidel, Bergren, who could not run for re-election to the House due to term limits, was routed by Havre minister Rowlie Hutton in the race for the open seat in Senate District 17, and Republican Hill County Chief Deputy Attorney Kris Hansen defeated Democrat Jack Trethewey by a nearly two-to-one margin.

The Democrats also lost races on the local level, with independent Jeff LaVoi — endorsed by the Hill County Republican Party — defeating Democrat James "Jim" Catt Jr. for Hill County commissioner and Republican Frank DePriest unseating Democratic Commissioner Don Swenson in Blaine County.

And the wave continued on the state and national level, with Republican Travis Kavulla defeating Democrat Tim Ryan in the race for Public Service Commission, a seat being vacated by long-time Democratic legislator and Public Service Commissioner Greg Jergeson due to term limits, and Denny Rehberg handily winning the races in both counties for his sixth term to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rehberg trounced both the Democratic candidate, Dennis McDonald, and the Libertarian Mike Fellows in Hill and Blaine counties.

What led to the change?

Hill County Republican Party Chair Andrew Brekke said, after having two months to review the results, his feelings about the reason for the victories haven't changed. A combination of national and local sentiment, along with strong candidates, is what led to the victories in the polls, he said.

"I think it was time," Brekke said.

He said the strength of the Republican candidates is what he primarily points to for the victories. The candidates were well-known, well-liked and well-respected for their work outside of politics, Brekke said.

"I really, honestly think that the right candidate is the right combination," he said. "The message on a partisan level is important, but not the whole package. After all, what have (the Republicans) changed in their message over the years?"

Musgrove had a different take.

"They outspent us, and we knew that was going to happen because they always do, they outworked us in some areas and they outvoted us," he said. "Reversing that has to happen in the next cycle."

Musgrove said one factor is the spending. Large amounts of money came into the area, including apparently money from out of state. When Republicans spend $17,000 to $25,000 in state legislative races — historically with numbers of about $5,000 in spending per race — it makes a difference, he said.

"Republicans had a lot more money pushed into these races than did the Democrats, so we were fighting on different levels in terms of that" he said.

The Republicans also used a very effective communications system — they were getting their message out very clearly, Musgrove said.

He said part of that message was to tie the state elections into the national political scene, which was done very effectively.

"We were just lumped into the Obama situation," Musgrove said.

But Brekke said the situation is what led to the Republican advantage, including donations and volunteers giving their time.

"Some people say this was just caught up in the national situation … our volunteers were motivated by national events, but the local situation as well," he said. "For a lot of people, I think it was just the right combination of the right time and the right candidates."

Looking forward to

the next elections

Both parties are looking to the future.

Musgrove said the Hill County Democrats already are looking for candidates for the city elections in 2011 and the next election in 2012.

"We have our feelers out," he said.

He added that he hopes the candidates who lost this year will consider working with the party again, as volunteers or candidates. The sting of loss may still be too close for them to commit at this point, he said.

He said the party does not have specific plans on how to turn things around.

"It's kind of nebulous at this point," Musgrove said. "We're still in the process of working out why we didn't have the volunteers we should have had for every election. …

"We're still trying to analyze how (the Republicans) raised more younger volunteers," he added.

Brekke said finding candidates, willing to take time from their families and jobs, always is a challenge, for the Democrats as well as the Republicans. The Republican victories this year may help with that, he said.

"I think this is a momentum-changer for us," he said. "A lot of people are expressing interest in running for office."

He said his party also is hopeful the interest in volunteering and helping with campaigns will continue.

"Obviously, these volunteers were motivated by their own reasons, respect for the conservative movement and wanting change, but also these candidates inspired them," he said.

He added that the momentum seems to be continuing. The turnout for U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines' stop in Havre was high, as was the Republican Christmas party.

Maintaining or

regaining momentum

Both party leaders said many things could change their respective momentums in the next few years.

Musgrove said that in the city elections next year the tone could be much different. Swaying voters by playing on the national political scene will be less effective.

"There won't be that national tag," he said.

He also said the tone already seems to be changing, with the success of Obama and the Democrats in Congress successfully passing a bipartisan tax cuts compromise, the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of gays in the military, and the Senate approval of the START Treaty with Russia.

"A number of things in the lame-duck session have made a more level playing field," Musgrove said.

Brekke said the Hill County Republicans already are working toward the next state and national elections, starting to plan for setting up a local office and starting mechanisms for fundraising.

"We're going to defend our legislative seats," he said.

Brekke said much of the success in that defense will depend on what happens in the Legislature and in Congress in the next two and four years.

He said that it was obvious that unhappiness with the actions of Obama and the Democratic Congress led many to run for Congress this year. The same, on both sides of the aisle, can happen in the Legislature, he said.

And if people think the legislators elected this November aren't doing their job, aren't doing what they were elected to do, that can change things.

"That can be a momentum-changer," Brekke said.

Republicans lock up traditionally blue Hill, Blaine counties

In a mirror of the state and national elections, Republican and independent candidates swept their Democratic opponents in Hill and Blaine counties in the November elections.

The trouncing of the Democrats is even more impressive in this region, a traditionally Democratic area with a strong union presence, but that didn't even help the union candidates in the election.

Hill County Democratic Chair John Musgrove said his party has a long road ahead of it — the intensity of the Republicans on a national level is going to continue, especially with the Republican minority leader in the U.S. Senate saying the party's next goal is to oust President Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.

"I don't think it's going to stop," Musgrove said.

Traditional Democratic victories

In a two-county region where seeing more than five or six Republicans in office on any level was unusual, the Democrats were thrashed on Nov. 2, losing every contested election in the local, state and national races.

While Republicans have held offices, including Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, former Republican Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Republican Rep. Merlin Wolery of Rudyard, Republican legislator Bob Sivertsen and Havre' Stan Stephens, a Republican state senator before serving two terms as governor, the region has never seen a sweep like this year.

And the change comes after two years of Democratic successes that also mirrored much of the nation, including Obama's win in 2008. Despite losing a traditionally Democratic seat to Warburton, Rep. Bob Bergren was re-elected to his fourth term in 2008, Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, was elected to his first term and Jonathan Windy Boy, an incumbent representative, won his first term as a state senator.

In 2009, the Democrats picked up victories in the Havre election with Tim Solomon unseating Rice in his try for a third term, and also regained one of the two Republican city council seats up for re-election.

That success ended in November.

Blue turns to red

The Republicans turned the Democratic majority around this year. Warburton defeated Democratic challenger Dana Sapp Seidel, Bergren, who could not run for re-election to the House due to term limits, was routed by Havre minister Rowlie Hutton in the race for the open seat in Senate District 17, and Republican Hill County Chief Deputy Attorney Kris Hansen defeated Democrat Jack Trethewey by a nearly two-to-one margin.

The Democrats also lost races on the local level, with independent Jeff LaVoi — endorsed by the Hill County Republican Party — defeating Democrat James "Jim" Catt Jr. for Hill County commissioner and Republican Frank DePriest unseating Democratic Commissioner Don Swenson in Blaine County.

And the wave continued on the state and national level, with Republican Travis Kavulla defeating Democrat Tim Ryan in the race for Public Service Commission, a seat being vacated by long-time Democratic legislator and Public Service Commissioner Greg Jergeson due to term limits, and Denny Rehberg handily winning the races in both counties for his sixth term to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rehberg trounced both the Democratic candidate, Dennis McDonald, and the Libertarian Mike Fellows in Hill and Blaine counties.

What led to the change?

Hill County Republican Party Chair Andrew Brekke said, after having two months to review the results, his feelings about the reason for the victories haven't changed. A combination of national and local sentiment, along with strong candidates, is what led to the victories in the polls, he said.

"I think it was time," Brekke said.

He said the strength of the Republican candidates is what he primarily points to for the victories. The candidates were well-known, well-liked and well-respected for their work outside of politics, Brekke said.

"I really, honestly think that the right candidate is the right combination," he said. "The message on a partisan level is important, but not the whole package. After all, what have (the Republicans) changed in their message over the years?"

Musgrove had a different take.

"They outspent us, and we knew that was going to happen because they always do, they outworked us in some areas and they outvoted us," he said. "Reversing that has to happen in the next cycle."

Musgrove said one factor is the spending. Large amounts of money came into the area, including apparently money from out of state. When Republicans spend $17,000 to $25,000 in state legislative races — historically with numbers of about $5,000 in spending per race — it makes a difference, he said.

"Republicans had a lot more money pushed into these races than did the Democrats, so we were fighting on different levels in terms of that" he said.

The Republicans also used a very effective communications system — they were getting their message out very clearly, Musgrove said.

He said part of that message was to tie the state elections into the national political scene, which was done very effectively.

"We were just lumped into the Obama situation," Musgrove said.

But Brekke said the situation is what led to the Republican advantage, including donations and volunteers giving their time.

"Some people say this was just caught up in the national situation … our volunteers were motivated by national events, but the local situation as well," he said. "For a lot of people, I think it was just the right combination of the right time and the right candidates."

Looking forward to the next elections

Both parties are looking to the future.

Musgrove said the Hill County Democrats already are looking for candidates for the city elections in 2011 and the next election in 2012.

"We have our feelers out," he said.

He added that he hopes the candidates who lost this year will consider working with the party again, as volunteers or candidates. The sting of loss may still be too close for them to commit at this point, he said.

He said the party does not have specific plans on how to turn things around.

"It's kind of nebulous at this point," Musgrove said. "We're still in the process of working out why we didn't have the volunteers we should have had for every election. …

"We're still trying to analyze how (the Republicans) raised more younger volunteers," he added.

Brekke said finding candidates, willing to take time from their families and jobs, always is a challenge, for the Democrats as well as the Republicans. The Republican victories this year may help with that, he said.

"I think this is a momentum-changer for us," he said. "A lot of people are expressing interest in running for office."

He said his party also is hopeful the interest in volunteering and helping with campaigns will continue.

"Obviously, these volunteers were motivated by their own reasons, respect for the conservative movement and wanting change, but also these candidates inspired them," he said.

He added that the momentum seems to be continuing. The turnout for U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines' stop in Havre was high, as was the Republican Christmas party.

Maintaining or regaining momentum

Both party leaders said many things could change their respective momentums in the next few years.

Musgrove said that in the city elections next year the tone could be much different. Swaying voters by playing on the national political scene will be less effective.

"There won't be that national tag," he said.

He also said the tone already seems to be changing, with the success of Obama and the Democrats in Congress successfully passing a bipartisan tax cuts compromise, the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of gays in the military, and the Senate approval of the START Treaty with Russia.

"A number of things in the lame-duck session have made a more level playing field," Musgrove said.

Brekke said the Hill County Republicans already are working toward the next state and national elections, starting to plan for setting up a local office and starting mechanisms for fundraising.

"We're going to defend our legislative seats," he said.

Brekke said much of the success in that defense will depend on what happens in the Legislature and in Congress in the next two and four years.

He said that it was obvious that unhappiness with the actions of Obama and the Democratic Congress led many to run for Congress this year. The same, on both sides of the aisle, can happen in the Legislature, he said.

And if people think the legislators elected this November aren't doing their job, aren't doing what they were elected to do, that can change things.

"That can be a momentum-changer," Brekke said.

 

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