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MT: Candidates Can Call In Caucus Pitch

By David Brown
Montana's first-ever Republican caucuses are continuing to develop even before they hatch out into the bright light of day starting at noon local time.

In recent days, several campaigns were looking for ways to talk to the 1,817 party officials -- most of them newly enrolled precinct workers -- who are eligible to vote in the caucuses. Last night, the state's GOP headquarters stepped in and offered to make it a bit easier. The candidates will call from their Super Tuesday roosts to a telephone number at party headquarters in Helena. The call will then be routed to locations in the state's 56 counties, where caucusing Republicans can listen in to the presidential aspirants' final pitches.

The call will begin about 6:40 p.m. with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. He will be followed by Arizona Sen. John McCain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Each will have about 15 minutes to speak.

Most caucuses will start with a social hour, followed by short speeches from local supporters of each candidate. The candidates' telephonic appearances will supplement, not replace, those pitches.

A few counties will probably have their work done by the time the candidates talk. (Sheridan County's caucus begins at noon.) In most places, however, people don't gather until 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. They will meet in a patchwork of venues -- private homes, motels, courthouses, community centers, a golf club, an ambulance barn, an Elks Club, and Spud's Cafe (Liberty County) and David McMillan's Hobby Shop (Richland County). Voting is by secret ballot, and they have to report results by 10 p.m.

The Montana GOP's decision to move to a caucus system open only to party officials functioned as a huge recruiting drive into the grass-roots bureaucracy of the party here. Since August, more than 700 people came forward to take unpaid precinct-level jobs in order to get a chance to have a say in who gets the Big Sky Country's 25 delegates to the Republican National Convention. It's winner take all.

Romney has had an organization here since September, with his rivals putting theirs together more recently.

Montana's Democrats have the night off. They are choosing their delegates in a primary in June.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 5, 2008; 2:24 PM ET
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