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State Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, speaks Wednesday as Missoula-area candidates from the Montana Democratic Party kicked off a statewide election tour. The tour to rally candidates will continue through six other towns throughout Montana in the coming weeks.

A stairway full of Missoula-area candidates gathered to kick off the Montana Democratic Party’s statewide door-knocking tour Wednesday.

“We are united, while the Republicans are entrenched in a civil war over which extremist agenda they will back,” said state Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, in front of the Missoula County Courthouse. Behind him stood 15 candidates for local legislative office, including two groups of three primary contestants for seats in the House of Representatives.

“We filled 125 races with candidates and we’re really excited,” Montana Democratic Legislative Candidate Committee director Lauren Caldwell said. “I honestly think the last two sessions spoke for themselves. There was a lot of division in the Republican Party. There were a lot of positive bills, from the state budget to public education funding that only came together through bipartisan compromise. I think the public is looking for more of that.”

The gathering preceded a “Communities that Work” campaign swing through the Missoula area Wednesday afternoon, followed by a candidate gathering at the Burns Street Bistro.

Sen. Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, noted that one of every 10 Democrats statewide came from the Missoula area. He pledged to help increase that number.

“We cannot let 2010 happen again,” Sesso said, referring to the election year Democrats lost many seats to Republicans. “We were sort of asleep at the switch in those midterm elections.”

The tour will also rally candidates in Whitefish, Helena, Havre, Great Falls, Miles City and Billings over the next several weeks.

Missoula Democratic voters enjoy primary races in House District 89, where Nate McConnell, Lewie Schneller and Sam Thompson face off in the June 3 election. House District 98 has a contest among Heather Cahoon, Willis Curdy and Greg Strandberg. And House District 100 has a race between Chuck Erickson and Andrea Olson.

Republican Missoula Central Committee Chairman John Angwin said GOP candidates were working the phones to gather volunteers and get settled into their local headquarters in former Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office on West Broadway.

Republican voters have primaries in House District 92 between Larry Dunham and David “Doc” Moore, and House District 98 between David August and Roger Seewald.

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Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

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Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.