Tomorrow in Montana

Kristin Teigen

Democrats face the end tomorrow of what has been one of the most arduous primary seasons in memory. I am, in particular, eager to see what will happen in my home state of Montana. At this point, Obama is far ahead of Clinton in the polls.

Similar to Oregon, Montana is often forgotten in national politics. With a sparse population and a few small cities, we Montanans never really felt like we counted. I remember clinging with pride to the fact that we were the fourth largest state in the nation…we sought out distinctions where we could find them. Raised on a farm, my parents taught my sister and me what to do if we encountered a bear, or a mountain lion, or any assortment of snakes. We were taught how to break the ice on the trough in order to water the cows, and what to do in a particularly fierce snowstorm. We took the power of nature very seriously.

The people of Montana, like Oregonians, should not be considered insignificant. The state is filled with those who live according to the near-religion of self-sufficiency, with daily devotionals of back-breaking hard work, long hours, and creating order amid the seeming chaos of nature. It is a lyrical place, with a sky as big as mountain-men legends and a disdain for the easy life. Many in Montana still feed off of a pioneer spirit, bred before mini-malls and latte stands. As Raymond Carver wrote, much of Montana is not the West “as in West Coast; cities like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle; these cities…may as well be on the European mainland.” Let’s not even talk about Obama’s Chicago.

With seven Native American reservations, it is impossible to consider the history of Montana without also considering the tragic and oppressive realities of the past and present. The battlefield at Little Bighorn is a reminder. Not as well known was the Marias Massacre, in which nearly 200 Piegan Blackfeet, mostly women and children, were killed by US troops in 1870. Montana’s Native Americans today comprise just 6.4% of the population and face high rates of infant mortality, poverty and unemployment in what is already a poor state.

In the frenetic pace of the campaign, it would have probably been easy, an efficient political calculation, for Barack Obama to disregard Montana’s Native American population entirely.

Well, he hasn’t. He has personally visited a number of Native American reservations (let me tell you, they are not on the beaten track), and has promised to appoint an advisor on Native American issues to his senior staff. He has met with Native people in nearly every major city he’s visited, not only Montana’s, and has promised to hold a significant, public event with the leaders of major tribes during the general campaign. Native leaders call his efforts to show them respect “unprecedented.” They have rewarded him, with the Crow Nation adopting him into their tribe.

Tomorrow, I hope that my home state of Montana grants Obama a well-earned victory. This often-forgotten state, with its often-forgotten people, deserves someone who will remember them.

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    That's been one of the good things about this race going as long as it has - the candidates have been out speaking with people in states that normally wouldn't get any attention at all. And while Senator Clinton won't be the next president, she will still be a U.S. Senator - and she can do a lot of good for those often ignored states.

  • Robert G. Gourley (unverified)

    I drink beer on a weekly basis with a guy from Montana, a staunch Bush supporter, and fiercely proud of his Montanan heritage. I wish them well tomorrow.

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    i grew up in Montana (Billings) and cast my first votes as a Montanan. i'm much happier being back in my native Oregon, but it's exciting that the campaign to bring Obama to the nomination will culminate with the voters of Montana. for those of us who see his candidacy as the best thing to happen to American politics in years (for me, just 4 years: i think Howard Dean is the best thing and Obama is the next step), Montana truly is the Treasure State.

    (MT's official state nick: the Treasure State)

  • Colin (unverified)

    Latest polls in Montana show 44% Obama 40% Clinton, South Dakota 60% Clinton 34% Obama

  • John F. Bradach, Sr. (unverified)

    Go Montana.

    Read Ivan Doig.

    Why does Bill say yesterday was his last day of campaigning. Will he not support the party's nominee?

    You can't make chicken salad out of chicken droppings.

  • Katy (unverified)

    Jenni, I couldn't agree more.

    My Dad lives in rural Montana (is there urban Montana?) and is very excited to vote for Obama tomorrow (yes, we argue all the time, haha).

    My Dad is one of two Democrats (that he knows of) in his town but it's been really interesting to visit over the past eight years and watch the change. Not a lot of Bush supporters anymore. About three years ago we were sitting in a bar and the town drunk (and I mean DRUNK) saddled up to the barstool next to us and slurred out a story about his son who had recently come home from Iraq. He'd been in a bad car accident since he'd been home and had to be life-flighted to the nearest hospital and they didn't know how they were going to pay for the life-flight, surgery or hosptital stay because the kid didn't have any health insurance. He went on to wonder how his kid could spend all that time defending his country and come home to no health insurance? Then he slurred out "You know what? I'm beginning to think that son of bitch doesn't give a shit about us!" Meaning George Bush. That was the moment I knew the country was changing. All the way back to the house I kept saying "here? they feel that way here?!?" We were both very happy Democrats on the way home from the bar in the middle of nowhere, MT that night.

  • admiral_naismith (unverified)

    This is a sign he intends to make Montana competitive in the general election, when he'll really need those First Nation votes.

    I'm glad. Montana is bluing nicely these days, and with Schweitzer and Baucus on the ticket, ther could be reverse coattails, helping Obama to actually carry the state for the Democrats for the first time since 1992!

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    Wife from Great Falls - half of the Flathead Valley are my inlaws. Go Montana, Go Griz, Go Dana Carvey, and Go Tester, Schweitzer and Baucus.

    Seriously, Montana has two Democratic Senators, a good Governor, and should take a back seat to noone.

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    I work for a company of about 300 people in Kalispell (Gateway to Glacier Park) and during a visit there before the '06 election, I put Tester bumper stickers on my rental. A sociological experiment. I like to watch the reactions of people in my rear view mirror, always prepared to duck in case they decide to shoot (they're all packin' ya know.) Occasionally I would get the V for Victory, more often just a middle finger salute. The only other political bumper sticker I saw in two weeks was "RICE '08" which truly chilled me to the bone. Similar results in Boise this year with Obama stickers on my rental. Joke: How can you tell an Oregon driver is a republican? No Democratic bumper stickers!

  • Native American researcher (unverified)

    This is going to be a very interesting election, especially in Indian Country. I think the majority will vote for Obama, but it is really hard to say - and there is no guarantee that there will even be a high turnout of Native American voters - at least from the rural areas. Those in the cities tend to vote differently then the ones on the reservations I've noticed.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Those polls cited above are ARG, the worst, and least accurate pollster of the primary season. They were off by 13 pts in Oregon. Mason Dixon has Obama up by 17 in MT. The latest credible poll has Obama up by 8 in SD. According to Marc Ambinder the Clintons are just hoping to keep their loss in SD to ten pts.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Montana, combined with South Dakota, and at least 25 supers today ( confirmed by Chicago tribune)will clinch the nomination for Obama. I have some good friends in Missoula who are thrilled to have a presidential primary count for the first time in recent memory.

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    A big hello to the Flathead Valley folks -- Bigfork (well, actually Ferndale) is where I grew up...

  • trishka (unverified)

    i can't believe how many montana ex-pats we have here at blue oregon.

    i was born & raised in glasgow, attended high school in missoula, and am a (proud) graduate of montana state in bozeman. my family mostly all lives in missoula now, though.

    kristen, i've asked you this before, but do you mind telling me what year you graduated from big fork? i had three nephews that grew up there; i'm wondering if you were at school with any of them.

    oh, and about politics. well, yes, after growing up a democrat in rural NE montana, it's kind of amazing to me to think that obama could conceivably, just maybe, as a long shot, be the first dem since roosevelt to take montana.

    but if it were going to be anybody, it would be him.

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    My parent moved us before I graduated, but I would have graduated from Bigfork High School. I ended up graduating from Beaverton High School -- quite the contrast....

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    What's ironic is that I can only think of one of my wife's sisters who will even be voting Democratic up there in Kalispell, and that's hoping my brother-in-law will either stay home or otherwise not cancel her out.

    My oldest nephew is an incoming senior at Columbia Falls - pretty good basketball and tennis player, who I'm hoping either gets to play in college or walks on after his mission.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    I am utterly clueless about how Native Americans vote, but the only Native American politician I can think of who has ever been on the national stage is a Democrat turned Republican (Campbell of Colorado).

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    Native Americans, to most likely over-generalize, typically vote Democratic, although security/defense issues can sway votes. There has been concerns that some might migrate to McCain because of these issues. Obama's work seems to be mitigating the potential effect of this.

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    Kristin, Tribal organizations can be a different matter. Apparently all 9 Oregon tribes endorsed Gordon Smith for re-election in Spring 2007 (so he claims on his website, quoting a story in the Oregonian that no longer loads). Smith is on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (as is John McCain), which may have something to do with the endorsements.

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