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Montana Democrats Work To Unify A 'House Divided'

When the convention started on Friday, a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton in a suit stood next to the event room doors. By Saturday afternoon, a slightly abstract portrait of Bernie Sanders was placed next to her.

Montana Democratic Party members were subtle, and at times not so subtle, in their differences at their party’s convention this weekend in Helena.

In last week’s primary, Bernie Sanders got more votes than Hillary Clinton, which means Montana will send 11 Sanders delegates and 10 for Clinton to the National Convention.

This weekend, the party voted on who those 21 delegates would be. They will represent Montana at the National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

“President Obama talked about that we were in the ouchy stage of the process, ” Jorge Quintana, a National Committeeman for Montana’s Democratic Party said.

He says that people who get involved at this level of politics tend toward passionate beliefs.

But, he says during the convention both Sanders and Clinton supporters were able to respect one another as they discussed their party’s values and future.

“And I think that is going to continue moving forward. At the end of the day the other side has nominated a racist demagogue to lead our country," Quintana said. "And I think the Democrats and independents are going to unite beyond the Democratic nominee to save this country.”

There are just under 150 days left before voters cast ballots to determine the next president.

While Democrats are determined to defeat Trump, party members in Montana have yet to rally around a single candidate to challenge him in November.

“Even within these walls, we’ll show a kind, friendly, smiling face to you, but behind the closed doors and these hallways we are very much all very passionate for our belief systems," Samara Sant, a Clinton supporter from Helena said. "It really is a house divided. And what we are doing this weekend and the last couple of days is trying to pull each other together and say, ‘we’ve got to be a united front you guys, not matter what.”

The Associated Press called Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee the day before Montana’s Primary. Sanders won the election 51 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent.

Jennifer Merecki from Billings says she felt insulted by the AP calling the race before Montanans had their say. But, she still believe Sanders can win and some of his supporters will keep pushing for his nomination.

“There’s enough strong Bernie supporters that consider themselves a Bernie-or-bust, and I don't’ think that they will sway over to the Hillary Clinton side," Merecki said. "But then there are some, due to the fact that they don’t want Trump to be elected. So, it is hard to say which way people will go, I think there is a split between the two.”

During the convention Merecki was selected to attend the National convention as Sanders delegate.

Merecki wasn’t sure if she would vote for Clinton if she was confirmed as the party's nominee. But, she said she would not vote for Trump, and that Trump scares her.

Carl Donovan from Great Falls was chosen as a Clinton delegate.

“I still see that there is a division between the Sanders and the Hillary people," Donovan said. "I feel that the Hilary people are excited, but the Sanders people still need to get over it. And I sort of understand that as of being on the losing end of the Clinton-Obama campaign.” 

Donovan was chosen as a delegate in 2008 when Clinton lost the race for the party's nomination to Obama.

“When Hillary released her delegates, of course, it was a very emotional time for all of us Hillary Clinton delegates, but we know that the right thing to do was to then vote for Obama to be our next president,” Donocan said.

As more influential Democratic Party members throw their support behind Clinton, voters still ‘Feeling The Burn’ may have a similar decision to make soon, 

Jean Lemire Dahlman is one Montana’s six unpledged delegates, and the only one who has announced how she will vote at the National Convention.

“Bernie says over and over, look it folks, the campaign isn’t about me. It is about ideas and a movement that I am trying to start. And he has ignited that passion up and down the generations," Dahlman said.

Dahlman says she isn’t concerned about the future of the Democratic Party. But, she says the future she wants to see might happen a lot sooner with Sanders running the country.

She says stepping out of the race is Sanders move to make. 

“I have every confidence that Senator Sanders will decide the time and the place to advice his supporters to on the next step. Because, we are all united in the fact that we want a Democrat in the White House, ” Dahlman said.

When the convention started on Friday, a cardboard cutout of Clinton in a suit stood next to the event room doors. By Saturday afternoon, a slightly abstract portrait of Bernie Sanders was placed next to her.

The feelings party members and delegates expressed all came before the mass shooting in Orlando Sunday morning. It’s unclear how those events might influence the election.

Montana's Delegates for Democratic National Convention:


Hilary Clinton Delegates:

  • Wanda Grinde - Billings
  • Carl Donovan - Great Falls
  • Monica Robinson - Bozeman
  • George Kipp III - Heart Butte
  • Nick Lockridge - Helena
  • Carol Williams -Missoula
  • Caryn Kallay - CSKT
  • Barnett G. Sporkin-Morrison - Choteau
  • Stacie Anderson - Missoula
  • Christine Kaufmann - Helena

Bernie Sanders Delegates:

  • Jennifer Merecki - Billings
  • Sue Frazier - Manhattan
  • Alex Lei - Bozeman
  • Andy Boyd - Bozeman
  • Donovan Hawk - Butte
  • Teresa Jacobs - Missoula
  • Bill Geer - Lolo
  • Debbie Orozco - Arlee
  • Sharon Peregoy - Crow Agency
  • Anita Green - Missoula
  • Steve Wells - Missoula

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