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Constitution Party ‘Spoiling’ Montana House?

From the Helena Independent-Record...

The conservative Constitution Party, which calls the Republican Party too liberal, has fielded a record 20 state legislative candidates for this fall’s election, a turnout that some Republicans worried could hurt their own party.

Although still little more than a political curiosity, the Montana Constitution Party is already influencing, at least to a small degree, campaign decisions made by Republicans this year.

In one legislative district, Republicans didn’t even offer a candidate because they didn’t want to split conservative votes with the Constitution Party candidate and end up handing a the seat to a Democrat.

And worse, Republicans say, the Constitution Party could steal enough conservative votes to give Democrats wins in two other districts.

With the House currently tied 50-50, even just one loss in a conservative area could really sting.

‘‘I am seriously worried it could cost us a couple of seats, and as tight as things are in the Legislature, it could cost us a majority,’’ said Chuck Denowh, executive director with the Montana Republican Party. ‘‘We not only have to promote our candidates, but we also have to let people know what the stakes are and how important it is to vote Republican.’’

The Constitution Party opposes what it calls ‘‘undeclared wars’’ like the one in Iraq, any type of abortion, the United Nations and the Patriot Act. It wants to return the country to the gold standard, abolish property taxes and have parents pay for their child’s own schooling.

The number of legislative candidates who filed this year is up from 13 in 2004.

‘‘Every election we get bigger,’’ said Jonathan Martin, chairman of the Montana Constitution Party that was formed in 1999. ‘‘We’ve seen a tremendous surge, especially this year, as far as interest goes.’’

In 2004, the party had 13 legislative candidates, but none got elected.

Martin said most members of the Constitution Party are disgruntled former Republicans.

‘‘We don’t take one single vote from Republicans. They give them away,’’ he said. ‘‘The Constitution Party is here because the Republicans have left their principles. It is more important for them to have a majority in the Legislature than to stand to conservative principles.’’

Most Constitution Party candidates are given little chance at winning, but Martin said that’s not the point.

‘‘We have two parties that both realize to be re-elected they have to do the same thing. To one degree another they both do the same thing,’’ he said. ‘‘To us it is not the most important thing to win, it is to stand up and speak the truth. If people are not ready for it, there is no sense in being elected anyway.’’

In House District 12, Constitution Party candidate Rick Jore is considered to have a good chance at winning. In fact, Republicans hope he does — and didn’t even field a candidate in the race to help Jore corner the conservative vote.

In 2004, Jore split a lot of conservative votes with Republican Jack Cross. Democrat Jeanne Windham was declared the winner over Jore after a court battle in the close race.

Denowh said Republicans are threatened in two districts — House District 1 in Libby and House District 59 in Red Lodge — where the third party could take enough votes to give Democrats the wins.

Craig Wilson, a political scientist at MSU-Billings, said he believes it’s unlikely the Constitution Party is going to make much of a dent in other races.

He said most legislative races in Montana are won by large margins, and Constitution Party candidates don’t have the means to mount active campaigns. Stealing just a few percentage points of the conservative vote probably won’t be enough to cost Republicans any wins.

Plus, some of the votes given to the third party candidates are simply ‘‘protest’’ votes that could come from the left or the right, he said.

‘‘I think it’s open question to what extent they will hurt the Republicans,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘But if you really go back and look at the results from prior races, you are going to find in lots of instances its a small percentage of the vote.’’

He said you have to go back at least half a century to find a third party candidate that won a state legislative race.

6 Responses to “Constitution Party ‘Spoiling’ Montana House?”

  1. Phil Says:

    I’m going to assume in the last paragraph he’s only taking about Montana, because otherwise that’s glaringly wrong…

  2. Freelancer Says:

    I gotta agree. If the Republicans lose some elections, than it’s really actually their fault.

  3. Trevor Southerland Says:

    Go CP!

  4. Joe Says:

    Way to go Montana!

  5. mmachine Says:

    I’ve been surprised at the strength of the Democrats in Montana. It may be in part due to Schweitzer and the unpopularity of Conrad Burns.

  6. Jim 101 Says:

    Go CP!

    Lets show those Republicans what it really means to be a conservative! The Republicans have lost their way, and the CP is ready to step into the breech. Even if they don’t win, they will keep the supposedly conservative Republicans honest, and looking over their shoulders should they stray to far to the left.

    This ground swell could gain momentum.

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