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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana GOP Elects National Delegates

Twenty-four delegates were elected during this weekend’s convention to represent Montana Republicans during the July National GOP Convention in Cleveland.";

At the state Republican Party convention in Billings this weekend, party leaders said it’s time for Republicans to get behind the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.

Two large Donald Trump signs hung on either side of the event stage in the Grand Ballroom of the Northern Hotel.

Beneath Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again!’ smaller signs checkered the wall in support of other party candidates: U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke, running to retain his seat, and Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman entrepreneur challenging current Democrat Steve Bullock for the position of governor.

Center stage, a red sign with bold white lettering read, "UNITED WE STAND."

U.S. Congressman Zinke addressed the crowd of more than 100 county Republicans with a similar message.

“It is going to take all of us to win," Zinke said. "And if we do the same thing that we’ve done previous — circle the wagons and shoot in — we are going to lose. And so as a military commander and your congressman, I have one request: unite.”

Just a few weeks ago this state GOP convention was shaping up to be a much more contentious event. But on May 3, Ted Cruz dropped out of the race, and Trump became the presumed Republican nominee.

Montana GOP chairman Jeff Essmann says Cruz was popular in Montana. And it was going to be a close race between Trump and Cruz during the state primary.

But with Cruz out, Essmann says Trump has his support, and has the support of a growing number of Montanans.

“I think Republicans are coming together. Both locally and nationally, from what I see in terms of the national polls, in terms of the conversations I've been having with Montana Republicans," Essmann said. "I think they understand that it's important that Hillary Clinton not be elected president and allowed to appoint, potentially, three justices to the Supreme Court.”

Essmann says the support of Trump as the GOP nominee is a combination of people believing he could be a good president, and other people just supporting whoever they think can beat a Democrat in the general election.

“The important thing is that Republicans that are interested in restoring a government that abides by the constitution need to turn out in November to elect a Republican,” Essmann said.

“It will be interesting to see how the popular vote comes out in Montana,” State Representative Nancy Ballance of Hamilton said.

Over the weekend she was voted in as one of the party’s electors for the Electoral College.

She says some people may not be excited about a Trump nomination, but:

“I think that what we need to do now is just get behind the candidate that wins. I know there are a lot of people who had their favorites in this race, and we had so many that we started with," Ballance said.  "And one by one they’ve dropped out. And people have gotten a little bit discouraged. We had a few people who did not come to the convention because their favorite wasn’t here. And I think we need to get past that quickly and support whoever the candidate is.”

A total of 225 county delegates registered for the Montana GOP convention. In all, 156 showed up.

GOP spokesperson Shane Scanlon said he couldn’t speak for the no-shows and there could be a number of reasons for them not coming to the convention. Scanlon said after Trump won Indiana and become the presumptive nominee, Montana’s convention wasn’t contested.

I talked to about a dozen Republican party members at the convention. None had anything negative to say about Trump being the party’s nominee.

“We don’t need to be united as Republicans on all issues," Ballance said.  "What we need to do is be aware of what our goals are, be aware of what we intend to put in our platform, and stick to those goals. And one of our goals, obviously, is to make sure we have a Republican in the White House.”

Ballance expects Republicans’ comfort level with Trump to rise once they learn more about the kind of people that will advise Trump, if elected.

U.S. Congressman Zinke agreed, and then compared Trump to Ronald Reagan.

“I support the nominee," Zinke said. "What I'm waiting for, like many of you, is who that team is around him. If you remember Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan was a good candidate, but became a great president. But today, we revere Ronald Reagan because his cabinet was legendary.”

Zinke gave a verbal nod to the supporters of the other 16 Republican candidates who were in the race before Trump became the nominee. He said any of the original Republican candidates were capable of being President of the United States.

Twenty-four delegates were elected during this weekend’s convention to represent Montana Republicans during the July National GOP Convention in Cleveland.

Montana’s national delegates to the Republican National Convention:

  • SethBerglee
  • Dee Brown
  • James Brown
  • Edward Butcher
  • Harrison Fagg
  • Jennifer Fielder
  • Dan Happel
  • Mike Hopkins
  • Debra Lamm
  • Paul Landsgaard
  • Bradley Lotton
  • Forrest Mandeville
  • Theresa Manzella
  • Anita Milanovich
  • John Milanovich
  • Ken Miller
  • Mark Noland
  • SuzzannNordwich
  • Eric Olsen
  • Karen Marie Pfaehler
  • Thomas Tuck
  • Art Wittich
  • Ryan Zinke

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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