Quarterly campaign finance reports were in the news today and for Montana political junkies there wasn’t much of a surprise in any of the numbers. The candidates who were in the lead with the dollars were the same ones leading in the polls. Duh.
Which, of course, will not prevent me from making a few observations:
Observation 1. Rick Hill is meeting and/or exceeding all expectations for running an aggressive, smart campaign, and has pretty much taken an insurmountable lead for the primaries. In addition, he has caused his general election opponents to shoot off all their ammo already. The liberal bloggers have gone all Rambo with every attack they can think of, fairly effectively turning “old news” into “regurgitated, recycled old news”. By the time the primaries are over next June, there won’t even be any arrows left in their quivers, let alone nukes in the warheads.
Observation 2. Ken Miller will never be the governor of this state. While he has a “devoted” following, it consists of the very uber-religious, albeit small, group that has chosen to ignore his history of fiscal irresponsibility (he left the state GOP budget in a huge deficit after his term as Chair of the party) in an election cycle where fiscal history is critical to a candidate’s success. The rest of the party not only remembers his history, they still hold him responsible for the election of Brian Schweitzer in 2004. This isn’t the year of the Religious Right. Trust me on this one, it’s not Miller Time in Montana.
Observation 3. Neil Livingstone is not a viable candidate. He may be smart. He may have a resume that impresses the hell out of some people. He may have access to more money than God. Doesn’t make a tinker’s damn worth of difference. He has no base in the party and he obviously doesn’t take the race seriously. Credible candidates don’t miss the deadline for filing campaign finance reports because their staff doesn’t know what the rules are. They also don’t show up at the State GOP Convention without a clue as to what’s-going-on-when, and at least one volunteer whi knows even a dozen delegates. If this were the 2008 senate race, maybe Livingstone could pull a Kelleher, but this year, this race, there’s not much chance that this primary election will come down to “eeney, meeney, miney, moe” at the ballot box.
Observation 4. Cory Stapleton remains an enigma. He certainly brings out strong emotions in people – not all of them positive. He’s running a really d-i-s-t-a-n-t second and stands to lose the most if Jeff Essman follows through on his plans to jump in the gubernatorial sandbox. He has some interesting ideas and certainly does bring a younger, fresher look to the race. Hard telling if he’ll play the role of spoiler or spoiled.
Observation 5. Jim O’Hara, a current county commissioner from Chouteau County rounds out the field – or brings up the rear, as it were. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Jim will actually come in last – a couple of the others certainly have potential to win that distinction.
So what’s so tough about that choice, you ask? Nothing. The tough choice is the one that Democrat Steve Bullock has to make.
Observation 6. Poor Steve. The D’s are hard-put to come up with an heir to Schweitzer’s throne in ’12 except for Steve – and rumor has it, that’s not for lack of trying. Practically every conceivable candidate has been asked, cajoled, wheedled, begged, bribed – okay, maybe not bribed – and/or strong-armed to consider entering the race. The only ones who have stepped up to the plate so far – Dave Wanzenried and Larry Jent – seem to be generating about the same level of enthusiasm as a three-day-old bucket of warm spit. Conventional wisdom (a/k/a political gossipmongers) confidently expects Bullock to suck it up and come to the aid of the party.
But it can’t be an easy decision for the guy. He’s young and has a long future ahead of him – if this election doesn’t cut it off at the knees, so to speak. And it could do just that.
The 2012 governor’s race is no sure deal for either party’s nominee, because a lot of the momentum will be dependent on the presidential and senatorial races and those are total crapshoots at this point. So Steve is confronted with a dilemma: He can keep his current job as Attorney General – he could easily whip the only announced Republican candidate, Jim Shockley. Or he can throw caution to the wind and go for the East Wing. Call it a 50/50 gamble. At best. Not that he’d be out on the street with nothing to do if he loses, but the family budget would be taking a big hit – not an insignificant factor to a father of three youngsters. More importantly – career-wise – if he runs and misses, it will likely be eight years before he could take another shot at the brass ring, because in four years it would be a rematch – not a very desirable situation, and 2014 looks to be a Baucus – Schweitzer headliner . But if he chooses the safe race this year, then his options in four years still aren’t so shiny when he’s termed out as AG and would most likely face an incumbent in the governor’s race. Not an easy choice.
Rock meet Hard Place.