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A number of speakers at this past weekend's Montana Republican Party convention pointed out the incongruity of having party faithful meet in the Democratic stronghold of Missoula.

"I live here in Missoula, and I think it's pretty heartening to see this many Republicans gathered in one spot," said state Republican Chairman Erik Iverson. "I'm not sure it's ever happened before."

Will Selph, the state party's special projects director - who as a University of Montana student was chairman of Montana College Republicans for three years, put it differently.

"It's never easy being a Republican at the People's Republic here," he said.

Still, the Missoula gathering drew a record convention crowd.

It won't get any easier next year. Montana Republicans are headed to heavily Democratic Butte for their state convention.

Montana Democrats, meanwhile, are heading to usually Republican cattle country in Miles City for their convention next month.

Bold prediction department

There's always plenty of bravado at both parties' political conventions, but Iverson made a bold prediction in the governor's race that he repeated at least once.

"You heard it here first," Iverson said. "Roy Brown is going to beat Brian Schweitzer in November."

He also took several swipes at the Democratic governor and predicted Brown and Republicans would run state government much differently.

"We're going to do it with a sense of decency, a sense of openness and civility that has been missing in Helena the last three and one-half years," Iverson said.

Brown, a state senator from Billings, also took some shots at Schweitzer.

"When you elect me as your next governor, Montana will be my first and only priority," Brown said. "I will promote Montana, not myself. You won't find me traveling the country promoting my own genius and ingenuity."

Spy vs. Spy, Part 1

Democrats were rebuffed in trying to send a video-camera-packing staffer and the party's spokesman into Missoula's Hilton Garden Inn to tape speeches by Republican candidates. The hotel's general manager summoned the police, who ordered the Democrats not to trespass.

Signs also went up in the part of the hotel where the convention was held declaring it was a private event and that no one without a pass would be admitted.

After listening to most of the speeches, I'm not sure the Democratic "tracker," as these camera people are known in the political world, would have come up with anything juicy. The candidates' speeches were the same as they've been giving for months.

Spy vs. Spy, Part 2

Computers and photocopiers enabled backers of presidential candidates John McCain and Ron Paul to practice their tradecraft during the election of delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention.

The Paul delegates were shut out in their efforts to elect a single delegate committed to the Texas congressman, who ended his candidacy earlier this month.

Before the voting, Paul's delegates apparently printed and distributed what was billed as the "McCain Presidential Unity Slate National Delegate Voting Guild," complete with McCain's campaign logo. The document salted the list with a few well-known McCain delegates - former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who chairs McCain's Montana campaign and Rep. Denny Rehberg, and their respective wives.

However, 14 of the 22 names on the purported McCain list were Paul delegates.

Not to be outdone, the McCain backers printed copies of the "Johnn McCain Unity Slate," also with McCain's logo. They intentionally added an extra "n" to McCain's first name so his backers would immediately know that it was the authentic list of candidates.

Both efforts seemed unnecessary because the names of the 22 McCain delegate candidates were printed on the front page of the official ballot, while the names of the Paul candidates were consigned to the back.

To no one's surprise, McCain won all 22 delegates.

Paul's backers might have captured a couple of delegates if they had just nominated three or four candidates and concentrated on electing them. But instead, they nominated dozens of people, thus diluting their votes.

"We're new to the process," said David Hart, Paul's Montana coordinator. "Hindsight's always 20/20."

Right to work?

State Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar of Laurel was angry over what he said was a right-to-work provision added to the party's platform at the convention, but it wasn't debated on the floor.

It says: "We believe that work rules and membership in labor bargaining units must remain free and flexible."

Right-to-work laws ban so-called "closed shops," which make payment of union dues a condition of employment. Unions strongly oppose right-to-work laws.

"I think this was a severe breach of the peace we had with unions," Molnar said. "For 12 years, they thought Republican control (of the Legislature) would mean right to work. There still isn't enough votes to do it."

A union member himself, Molnar predicted this new platform language "will be a rallying point to hurt Republicans unnecessarily."

"We recognize the right to collective bargaining," he said, "and the government should not interfere in a contract between two entities."

Montana's four neighboring states are all right-to-work states. The National Right to Work Committee has placed staffers in Montana to push for enactment of such a law here eventually.

Solitary men

Shunned Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bob Kelleher wasn't the only candidate relegated to a side room to meet with anyone interested instead of being allowed to speak to the full convention.

Rep. Michael Lange of Billings, a write-in Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, was assigned to the same side room Saturday to meet with anyone interested. Lange lost to Kelleher by nearly 10,000 votes in the June 3 primary election to finish second in the six-way race.

Like other Republican candidates, Lange also rented a table in the large room outside the meeting rooms to meet with people. There was never a line to see him.

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Missoulian's State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached at (800) 525-4920 or (406) 443-4920. His e-mail address is chuck.johnson@lee.net .

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