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Montana Voters Reflect on Their Choices at the Polls


A voter carrying his son on his shoulders collects his ballot at a civic center in the last primary of the U.S. presidential election in Helena, Montana June 3, 2008. (Reuters)

By Karl Vick
MISSOULA, Mont. -- Precinct 75 takes in a student neighborhood adjoining the University of Montana and, on election day, sets up polling booths on the dance floor of the Missoula Senior Citizens' Center. It's an arrangement that might be called cheek by jowl, and on the Democratic side also reflects the by now familiar demographics of the primary season drawing to a conclusion today here and in South Dakota.

"I like Obama," said Robert Sears, 26, and a math major. "Because he just has a real easy manner. He says a lot of things that at least here in Missoula we've been thinking a lot about. We've been thinking a lot about school systems. And he's charismatic, seems like. He's a statesman."

"I went for Hillary for many reasons," said Caryl Wickes-Connick, 77. "I like the things that she's proposing to do. Even though she's in a tight squeeze with her counterpart, I'm feeling it's wonderful what's happened. People are really getting to talk with the candidates like they haven't been able to. People are getting excited about voting, which is a nice experience. It's a once in a lifetime experience for me and I've been voting since I was 18."

Election officials in the Big Sky state were expecting an unusually large turnout, though by 10:30 a.m. Mountain time only 56 of 1,054 voters registered for Pct. 75 had come in from Higgins Street. "A trickle," said poll judge Kathy Derry, who observed that many students had left town after exams concluded in mid-May.

But participation is measured in more ways than one, especially this year, when almost every state in the union got the attention of candidates.

"We are the last primary in the country and we've had more politicos in here than we've had in years," said Ernie Franceschi, checking voter identification one table down from Derry. "Bill Clinton was eating hamburgers at the Montana Club the other day."

And Michelle Obama was in Kalispell, reading "Green Eggs and Ham" to grade schoolers.
Her husband is favored here, especially among young voters his campaign has energized across the country.

"I think maybe there'll be less corruption under him. And he's a fresh face," said Stephen Sears, 24. "Maybe he doesn't have as much baggage."

He stood beside his brother, dressed for June 3 in the Rockies in flip-flops and fleece. A zoology major, he tapped something hard in the pocket: "I'm on my way to sign up for the MCAT," he said, referring to the examination for medical school. "Got my wallet. It costs $210."

Rachel Healow, 21, wore her "I Voted" sticker on her bike helmet. A cultural anthropology major, the Billings native is minoring in women's studies, but chose Obama over Hillary.

"I'm tired of the status quo, and I'm thinking of electability," Healow said. "He's just more electable just based on people's preconceptions. And I think the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton thing is a bad progression. That's all.

"He makes a damn good speech."

A red Toyota convertible pulled into the parking lot, Buddy Holly on the sound system and Roman Kuczer at the wheel.

"I've known all along: Obama," said the retired advertising man, who moved out from Baltimore in 1973. "As I've said to a lot of folks, I think this country's in a spiritual quandary. Not that I'm religious, but I think of the three he's more inspirational, like Kennedy was. He's got the potential to become a great president."

Wickes-Connick, the Hillary voter, walked down Higgins street visibly cheered by the whole process.

"We've had a lot more dialogue," she said. "I even wrote a letter to the editor, because she [Hillary] had been misquoted." The disputed remarks concerned Jeannette Rankin, the Missoula native who fought to bring Montana women the vote before the 19th Amendment was ratified nationwide, and was herself elected to Congress, where she voted against entering both World Wars.

In Montana, Wickes-Connick pointed out, more men voted for women's suffrage than voted against.

"I want my granddaughters to know that in Montana, men helped women to get the vote," said Wickes-Connick, who described herself as retired.

From what?

"I started the first shelter for battered women and children in Montana," she said.

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 3, 2008; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Primaries  
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