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Political parties meet post-primary

7 Dems head to Helena to back Obama

Hill County Democrats kicked off what they predicted would be a good year Thursday night by tapping seven people to attend the state Democratic caucus in Helena on Saturday.

The state caucus will select delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this summer. All of Montana's delegates will be pledged to the renomination of President Barack Obama, who handily won the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Attending the Helena meeting will be:

  • Brenda Skornogoski, the party's candidate challenging State Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, and her husband, Joe Skornogoski.
  • Hill County Democratic Chair John Musgrove and his wife, Sue Musgrove.
  • Long-time party activist, Toni Hagener, a former Hill County commissioner and state representative.
  • Charlie Gallas, who has been active in party politics for many years.
  • Deborah Walker, who ran unsuccessfully in Tuesday's primary for county commissioner.

The party is entitled to 10 delegates at the caucus, but three others were not at Thursday's meeting, and hadn't signed the required loyalty forms prior to the meeting.

After the meeting, Musgrove predicted Obama would do well in Hill County, which he carried handily four years ago.

He said during the 2010 midterm campaign, he heard "a lot of negativity" about Obama and Sen. Max Baucus concerning their role in the adoption of health care reform measures, but that seems to have dissipated.

"I'm hearing very little about that race," he said. "And I think that's good. "

He predicted this would be "a good Democratic year," saying Democrats are enthusiastic and ready to bounce back from the 2010 defeats.

He said he was surprised by some of results in Tuesday's primary, "but we can work through them."

He said he didn't anticipate the defeat of State Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, to Clarena Brockie. He easily carried Hill County, but was defeated by a heavy turnout in Blaine County, Brockie's home.

Local GOP hears update on Rehberg campaign

Local Republicans heard an update Thursday on what the campaign of Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont, is doing to win in his race to defeat Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Jake Eaton, chief of staff for Rehberg's Senate campaign, told the Hill County Republicans they should expect to see more high-level Republican help in the region for this and future elections, especially with the GOP's successes in the last few elections.

"The days of Republicans neglecting Hill County are over, " Eaton said to applause. "This is a very important county for us, as well as the surrounding area. "

He said the success in raising volunteers and in electing Republicans and independents in Hill and Blaine counties in 2010 — Democrats lost all contested general elections in the counties that year — gives the region a different perspective for the party.

"We learned an interesting fact, and that is that you can elect Republicans up here, " he said.

Eaton showed a slide with poll data indicating the number of people who are happy with the direction in which the country is moving has dropped significantly in Montana over the last eight years.

"We think this means very, very good news for Republicans, " he said. "It means people are sick of (Senate Democratic Majority Leader) Harry Reid, people are sick of Barack Obama. "

He said that Obama's low approval rating in Montana — Eaton cited a 32 percent approval rating, compared to President George Bush's low of 42 percent — will impact Montana Democratic candidates.

"That weight is going to carry all the way down the ballot, from Jon Tester to (Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Steve Bullock, (Democratic U. S. House candidate) Kim Gillan, all the way down to these local legislative races, " Eaton said. "All of these Democrats are going to have to explain why they are standing with Barack Obama, and it's going to be a hard case to make. "

Karli Hill, field director of Montanans for Rehberg, said the campaign is making a major push to talk to voters. She and Eaton said Rehberg campaigners already have made 135,000 telephone calls and have knocked on 15,500 doors in the state by Thursday morning.

The Havre office is the seventh the Rehberg campaign has opened in the state, and the campaign directors intend to have more than 20 staff members on the ground before the election is over, Hill said.

"We really want to make a big push to talk to people person-to-person, to knock on their doors, to call them on the phone and really talk about the issues that matter to Montana, " Hill said.

Eaton said the top concerns identified by voters — he listed discontent over the health care reform passed in 2010, the stimulus package passed in 2009, the bailout of the federal mortgage companies nicknamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, earmarks, a balanced budget amendment, moral issues and illegal immigration as top voter concerns — favor the GOP.

He said the top issue definitely favors Republicans.

"You don't need to be a professional pollster or rocket scientist to figure out its jobs and economy …, " Eaton said. "It's all about what this administration and their allies in Congress have done to stop job growth. "

He said the campaign still has a long way to go in its fundraising efforts — the goal is $7.5 million, with about $4.2 million raised so far.

He also talked about campaign advertising, and noted that much third-party spending has come from banking and unions to support Tester.

"So you can see, the unions are spending big to keep their guy there, " Eaton said.

Much of the spending for Rehberg has come from 60 Plus Association, a conservative version of the AARP, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit political action committee Eaton said was formed by prominent Republicans including Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and Ed Gillespie.

"These guys have been good allies for us already, and you're just going to keep seeing more of it, " he said.

The Hill County Republicans next will head to Missoula for the GOP's state convention in Missoula June 14-16. Hill County Republican Central Committee Chair Andrew Brekke, Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, and Brad Lotton will represent the county at the convention, Brekke said.


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