The more things change…
By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
The 2012 election cycle included the most hotly contested battles in recent memory. From the presidential race to Montana’s seat for District 3 Public Service Commissioner, nothing was guaranteed until the final ballots were cast.
This just in: Nothing changed. At least not on the surface.
Obama is still president and Congress remains split, with Democrats winning majority in the Senate and Republicans maintaining hold of the House. Pundits are nodding to factors ranging from the 2010 Citizens United decision to the gender gap, and from a strong Democratic voter turnout to an out-of-touch GOP.
Behind the façade, and beneath the national stage, the seas are roiling. In Montana, however, waters may be calm enough reflect what is happening throughout the country.
In Montana’s Senatorial race, Democrat John Tester defeated Republican Dennis Rehberg, and in the race for House Representative, Republican Steve Daines won over Democrat Kim Gillan. Both Tester and Daines won handily, taking 4 and 11 percent of the popular vote, respectively, according to unofficial results reported by the Montana Secretary of State’s website.
Many state races were close and one, for Office of Public Instruction, is gridlocked. As of press time, it’s listed as a possible recall race, with Democrat Denise Juneau leading Republican Sandy Welch by less than half of 1 percent.
The state gubernatorial race to replace term-limited Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer was a battle as well. Campaign spending littered the path to voting day, with Democrat Steve Bullock suing his opponent, Republican Rick Hill, for accepting a contribution of $500,000 from the Montana Republican Party. The suit is still pending as of press time.
The race was tight until the end, even after Hill was court-ordered to stop spending that money from Oct. 24 through Election Day. Finally, after 1 p.m. on Nov. 7, it was clear that Bullock had beat Hill for the governor’s seat.
Montana’s election results surprised veteran MSU political science professor David Parker as much as anyone – Mitt Romney carried nearly 14 percent more of the popular vote than Barack Obama did here.
“There’s no reason why Bullock should be the next governor,” Parker said. “There was no reason to presume that Sen. Tester would be going back to Washington. You look at the fact that there are more Republicans in [Montana] than Democrats. All the fundamentals just show you – no way.”
Parker attributes the success of Democrats in Montana to two main factors: the liberals’ ability to get out the vote, and women voters.
The Secretary of State’s website’s unofficial totals on Nov. 14 indicated Tester received 18,044 more votes than Rehberg. Part of this movement can be attributed to an increased use of technology-based resources.
The Obama campaign in 2012 used Amazon Web Services, a cloud technology baron that supplied web services to 200 different election polling programs during the cycle. These programs, which analyzed voter data, included Dashboard (which allowed canvassers to get assignments via smartphone or tablet), Spotify, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, according to Obama’s website. The president had 33,315,674 likes, as of Nov. 13. Romney had 12,040,846 likes.
Tester’s website boasted “digital dominance” – the winning Senator had 31,106 likes, as of 3 p.m. on Election Day, with Rehberg at 2,493.
Technology was a major factor in this election cycle, but Facebook wasn’t the only basket where Tester placed his eggs. He knew he needed canvassers, and local supporters were key.
Gallatin County Democrats put boots on the ground during the final campaign push.
“GOTV was critical to the entire elections,” said Billy McWilliams, Chairman of the Gallatin County Democratic Central Committee, referring to the acronym for Get Out the Vote.
McWilliams, who, as of Nov. 14 was decompressing in Hilo, Hawaii, said the effort included knocking on doors and utilizing the phones. “They called every single person in Gallatin County,” he said. “They met the entire universe. We knew we had this election.”
Tammy Hall, first vice president for Gallatin County Republican Women, felt the local Republican effort to get out the vote was strong, but said voter fraud in the county was a factor in the outcomes.
“When you’ve got 8,000 people registering to vote on the same day, you’ve lost control,” said Hall, also one of 22 delegates representing Montana at the Republican National Convention in August.
Early estimates indicate 7,975 voters registered on Election Day, according to Teri McCoy, communications director for the Secretary of State.
“But that number isn’t actually surprising,” McCoy said. In 2008, she said, the Secretary of State’s office recorded 7,419 voter registrations.
Nationally and in Montana, women voters had major influence in the outcome of this election cycle. Both sides hoped to empathize with this demographic, but exit polls show Democrats across the country appealed more to women.
“There’s a gender gap,” Parker said. “Tester won women [votes] by nine points over Rehberg. There’s a similar gender gap when you look at the governor’s race, as well.”
Many have claimed the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling – which allowed corporations to donate to campaigns – was the contributing factor to the fall of Republicans in Montana’s race for the Senate and the governor’s seat. Indeed, 75 percent of voters in Montana cast ballots for Initiative 166, a measure stating corporations are not people and are therefore limited to the amount they can contribute to a political campaign.
Schweitzer said he hopes the referendum will “spread like a prairie fire” across the country. His Lieutenant Governor, Republican John Bohlinger, also backs the initiative.
Allan Ryan, a Harvard University lawyer and Director of Intellectual Properties at the school, said the negative campaign ads that flooded TV screens across the country were, for many Americans, too much to bear.
“It just got to the point where I was muting even the candidates I was supporting,” said Ryan, who teaches a course called “Media and the Constitution” at Harvard.
Approximately $24 million was spent on the Montana Senate race alone, according to Parker.
David Frum, a Newsweek contributing editor, claimed on the website The Daily Beast, that Montana voted for Democrats Tester and Bullock over their adversaries because of a “backlash” against outside campaign financing. While both parties received outside funding, Tester, Frum wrote, used the money in a wiser fashion.
“Tester managed to turn this avalanche of outside money to his advantage by portraying [Rehberg] as a tool of outside, special interests,” Frum wrote.
Parker, who wrote the book The Power of Money in Congressional Campaigns, 1880-2006, doesn’t see outside spending as the most significant factor in these elections.
“More important than Citizens United is the economy,” he said. “It’s not as bad in Montana [as in other parts of the country]. If the economy is fine, [voters] keep the incumbent in office.”
Ryan agreed. This election year has seen unprecedented amounts of outside campaign contributions, but following exit poll releases Ryan has noticed another development.
“The Citizens United case opened the flood gates to hundreds of millions of dollars in outside funding,” Ryan said. “Each presidential candidate spent almost $1 billion… The interesting thing is, the money seemed to make so little difference in the end.”
Obama is still president and the political landscape is much the same as it was before the election.
“What the hell difference did it make?” Ryan asked. “It may be that people are smarter than we give them credit for.”
While both parties needed a strong voter turnout, Parker said it was a critical factor for Democratic victories in Montana races.
“The key to the Democrats [winning] always had to be to get the folks to the polls,” he said. “And they won the Independent [vote]. That’s the story.”
Ryan agreed that Montana reflected the nation’s political atmosphere. “The Obama campaign had an unbelievable ground game, and it caught Romney flatfooted. The election came down to “shoeleather and doorknocking,” he added.
Locally, the race for District 3 Public Commissioner was a seesaw battle until the finish. Republican Roger Koopman rallied in the final hours on Election Night to defeat incumbent Democrat John Vincent, 50.7 percent to 49 percent.
While Montana’s exit polls may reflect the country’s hesitance to shake up the pot, it remains to be seen if the state will predict where the nation ends up. Many of the same players are playing the same game in the same positions. Most hope they just get along.
Montana Election Results 2012
Compiled by Maria Wyllie Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
Listed below are the unofficial statewide and local results from the 2012 election. All results are unofficial until the end of November. Official results will not be posted for county races until Nov. 16 and for state races until Nov. 27 at the earliest. Roughly 5,500 provisional ballots have yet to be counted.
President and Vice President: Barack Obama and Joe Biden
U.S. Senator: Jon Tester
U.S. Representative: Steve Daines
Governor and Lt. Governor: Steve Bullock and John Walsh (D)
Secretary of State: Linda McCulloch (D)
Attorney General: Tim Fox (R)
State Auditor: Monica J. Lindeen (D)
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Denise Juneau (D)
Clerk of the Supreme Court: Ed Smith (D)
Public Service Commissioner, District 3: Roger Koopman (R)
Public Service Commissioner, District 2: Kirk Bushman (R)
Public Service Commissioner, District 5: Bob Lake (R)
Supreme Court Justice No. 5: Laure McKinnon (NP)
Supreme Court Justice No. 6: Brian Morris (NP, uncontested)
State Senator, District 33: Mike Phillips (D)
State Senator, District 34: Scott Sales (R)
State Representative, District 63: Frankie Wilmer (D)
State Representative, District 64: Tom Woods (D)
State Representative, District 65: Kathleen Williams (D)
State Representative, District 66: Jennifer “JP” Pomnichowski (D)
State Representative, District 67: Gordon (Gordy) Vance (R)
State Representative, District 68: Kelly Flynn (R)
State Representative, District 69: Ted Washburn (R)
State Representative, District 70: Kerry White (R)
District Court Judge, District 18, Dept. 1: Holly Brown (uncontested)
District Court Judge, District 18, Dept. 3: John C. Brown (uncontested)
County Sheriff/Coroner: Brian Gootkin (R)
County Commissioner: Steve White (R, uncontested)
State Senator, District 36: Debby Barrett (R)
State Representative, District 71: Ray L. Shaw (R)
District Court Judge, District 5, Dept. 1: Loren Tucker (NP, uncontested)
County Commissioner: David Schulz (NP)
Legislative Referendum No. 120- (Parental notification prior to an abortion for a minor) – For: 79.55%, Against: 29.45%
Legislative Referendum No. 121- (Deny certain state-funded services to illegal aliens) – For: 79.51%, Against: 20.49%
Legislative Referendum No. 122- (Prohibit state or federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance) – For: 67.20% Against: 32.80%
Legislative Referendum No. 124- (Referendum on SB-423, which repealed I-148 and enacted a new medical marijuana program) – For: 57.25% Against: 42.75%
Initiative No. 166- (Corporations are not entitled to Constitutional rights) – For: 74.67% Against: 25.33%