Election 2012: A Post Mortem and a Preview


I intended to post a thank you to the campaign staffers, party workers and countless volunteers who harassed Democratic voters with phone calls, door hangers, and visits before the election, but didn’t want to forget tonight. Their enthusiasm and energy absolutely paid off in all of the statewide races, one of which could end up being decided by just a handful of votes. Gaining seats back in the House absolutely matters, too. Whether your candidate(s) won or lost, your efforts were herculean—and appreciated.


I think a number of lessons were learned in the Tester-Rehberg race, perhaps none more important than the fact that a candidate can’t win a statewide race in Montana by running a relentlessly, exclusively negative campaign. In the end, the most damaging issue for Dennis Rehberg was that he had no achievements to show Montana voters, who were less interested in a trumped up statistic about Obama than in electing someone who could get the job done.

While the presence of Dan Cox on the ballot certainly mattered, it would be easy to overstate his impact. Rehberg lost a fair number of those voters with or without Cox on the ballot—voting for the Patriot Act and supporting HR 1505 cost him more than the presence of Mr. Cox. Believing absurd poll numbers that showed him in the lead and not campaigning the last week probably didn’t help, either.

Finally, it’s hard to ignore the power shift that is taking place in Montana Democratic circles. The Tester team is the force to be reckoned with going forward—and they deserve the position they’ve earned.


With the defeat of Mr. Rehberg and Mr. Hill, the curtain has finally fallen on the Racicot-Martz cabal in the Montana Republican Party. My real political awakening took place during the Racicot administration, and it’s interesting to see that last of that group riding off into retirement or lobbying. Who takes the mantle of leadership in the Republican Party now?


Montana might be a purple state, but it’s still redder than blue, as the legislative and PSC races demonstrate. It’s simply astonishing that the Republican Party doesn’t have a stable of candidates who can win the statewide races, but the kind of paranoid parochialism that wins safely-drawn legislative seats just doesn’t win across the state. Each of the top five Republican candidates entered this election with the benefit of a Republican-leaning electorate, but the only one who could win was the one who wouldn’t discuss his views with the press or the public. That says something.


The Democratic candidates who defeated them yesterday face an interesting future in 2016. Assuming Denise Juneau wins her close race, she, Monica Lindeen, and Linda McCulloch will all face term limits in 2016—and will be blocked by Steve Bullock from pursuing the governor’s chair. While it’s almost certain that the Republican candidate for Secretary of State will be Brad Johnson again, Democrats need to start thinking early about a game plan to retain these critical seats.

THAT $500,000

I think Rick Hill fumbled the election away when he took $500,000 from shady donors in the weeks before the election. It generated enormous negative publicity for his campaign, especially in the context of the Frontline piece and the attitude Montanans have shown when it comes to corporate campaign finance. It was a terrible tactical decision from the Hill campaign—and a bad enough decision to have swung more than a few thousand votes.


There will be a longer post about this subject in the days to come, but this election demonstrated two glaring issues facing the electorate in the future: the weakness of a depleted, overtaxed legitimate press corps and the danger of partisan, secretly-funded pseudo-press agencies distorting the truth. The former enabled stealth candidates like Tim Fox and Steve Daines to win election without disclosing their reactionary agendas, while the latter relentlessly attacked Democratic candidates unfairly and inaccurately.

Both problems are only likely to be worse in 2016.


Some will certainly disagree, but I think Brian Schweitzer is going to run for President in 2016. I’d probably prefer that he pursue another office, but can’t wait for the Schweitzer show to go national. I think we’re going to have an excellent governor in Steve Bullock, but we’re going to miss Governor Schweitzer, who, in the past eight years, has reminded Montana Democrats that we have a legacy to be proud of and a vision for the state worth fighting for.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Don, you’re wrong on one point. Tim fox, a true moron, was ALSO a mark ratco appointee. SO, the Ratco era is not quite defunct! We may be funct, though, in that the first words outta moron timmy fox’s mouth were that his most important priority was to go after “fed overreach” in Montana! He may as well be wearing a huge lapel button that says “I’m a Corporate Pimp, and I’m open for business”! He’s a sweet cream corporate lady! Mark my words, this dude is nuts!

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