Sunday, January 15, 2006

Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald on the new 'blue' in The Big Sky state

Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald talks about the Democratic resurgence and the leadership of Governor Brian Schweitzer in Montana:
All eyes on newly blue Montana, top Democrat says
By GINNY MERRIAM of the Missoulian
January 15, 2006

The national popularity of Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the upsurge of Democrats in office in Montana may give the state a serious political role in the next presidential election, Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald said Thursday in Missoula.

“The whole country is watching what's going on here in Montana,” he told an audience brought together by the Missoula Organization of Realtors. “We've become a blue state.”
People watched with “fascination and wonderment” as Democrats won back the governor's office - for the first time since 1988 - and control of the state Senate last fall.

“Brian's obviously a big part of that,” he said.

At a recent conference in Phoenix where Schweitzer was scheduled to speak, a delayed plane made the governor late. But people waited, just to meet him and talk to him, McDonald said.

That kind of national attention will continue into the presidential primaries in 2008.

“I have to tell you, without being too arrogant, I think Montana's influence is going to be significant,” he said.

Montana's participation in a proposed Western states primary, held earlier than the state's usual June election, could also boost its standing on the political map.

“From my standpoint, I'm just hopeful,” McDonald said. “It would be nice to be a player.”

At the same time, longtime Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns' star appears to be falling in the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Burns' current tour of Montana may be a move to rebuild his support, McDonald said.

“I don't think he'll run,” he said. “If you just want speculation, my idea is they've told him to come out here and get his numbers up, or they won't support him.”

Polls testing support for challenges by state Senate President Jon Tester and Montana Auditor John Morrison show Tester and Burns dead even at 45 percent each, and a Morrison-Burns race gives Morrison 43 percent and Burns 45 percent, a poor showing for a three-term incumbent, McDonald said.

“Obviously, I'm way partisan,” he said. “But however you view it, we've got to do something about this culture of corruption in Washington. It's an embarrassment for Montanans to have their senator named among the 13 most corrupt in Washington. ... We have a long history of sending good people to Washington.”

Montana Democrats elected McDonald state party chairman in July. A Sweet Grass County rancher and president of the Montana Cattlemen's Association, he and his family raise and train registered quarter horses, cutting horses and working cow horses and run 750 head of Angus and Brangus cattle at their ranch near Melville. He practiced law full-time in California for 20 years and has ties to the Bitterroot Valley, where his brother used to ranch.

Like Schweitzer, McDonald is serving to reunite the words “Democrat” and “agriculture.”

“It's been over 20 years since we've had a governor who knew how to pull a calf or sew up a prolapse,” he said.
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