Montana’s Republican party meets Friday and Saturday to select new leadership. It’s trying to expand on big gains it made in 2016 and this year, and rebound from recent damage to its public image.
State Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls says Montana’s GOP needs leadership to work toward what he calls a more “welcoming” and “big tent” party. Buttrey ran for his party’s nomination to run in the special election for Montana’s House seat, losing to Greg Gianforte. He says the state GOP has been hurt recently by internal feuds over who is a true Republican, creating factions that limit the party’s potential.
“We’ve done a lot of that. We’ve had folks that have said, you know, this is what I believe, whether it is realistic or not, and if you don’t agree with me, you’re not a Republican. We can’t do that anymore," Buttrey said. "There is a lot of visionary in our party and we need to embrace that and listen to everybody and don’t tell them to be quiet because they’re not Republican enough.”
But Republican Senator Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls wants people who say they’re Republican to have true Republican values, and not just bandwagon on the GOP name to win in conservative counties.
“There’s some work to do there to make sure that our name isn’t being used, or our brand isn’t being used by people who feel the only way they feel they could get elected is if they put ‘R’ behind their name," Fielder said. "We want to make sure the people who put ‘R’ behind their name are Republicans."
As party members gather this weekend to elect the future leader of the state GOP, they’re coming off of a near sweep statewide offices in 2016, winning every office but the governor’s.
But in recent weeks the party has faced the challenge of seeing Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte initially deny and then accept responsibility for assaulting a journalist on the eve of his election day win. Gianforte’s ability to move beyond the negative notoriety for that incident will have a lot to do with whether he can retain his seat in 2018.
It’s also likely to influence the GOP’s ability to defeat Democratic Senator Jon Tester, who’s well positioned to run for his third term in 2018 as well.