Montana in play

Democratic governor, new Democratic senator ... and 3 new Democratic electors?

Published October 28, 2008 2:59PM (EDT)

Montana, a state that since 2004 has elected a Democratic governor (Brian Schweitzer) and a second Democratic senator (Jon Tester, in 2006, to join veteran Max Baucus), is now competitive in the 2008 presidential race.

This is not a state George W. Bush won four years ago by 8 or even 10 points, mind you -- but by 20 points. A Montana State University at Billings poll released last week shows Barack Obama with a small lead.

Montana has always been a progressive outlier in the upper Interior West, its political traditions distinct from Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. And although Bill Clinton carried Montana in 1992, it has been reliably Republican in presidential elections since. Schweitzer won in 2004 as Bush cruised, with John Kerry nowhere in sight.

But with Schweitzer and Tester as new surrogates, coupled with a growing disaffection toward the Republican Party spreading across the Interior West, this is a new Montana and newly competitive Obama campaign.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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