When it comes to politics in Montana, anything can happen.
At least that’s the sentiment rolling out of the state this past week as a long shot candidate for U.S. Senate, Bob Kelleher, won the Republican nomination and will take on seasoned Democrat Max Baucus in next fall’s election. The odd thing about the whole ordeal is that Kelleher is pretty much a bona fide socialist. More so, than say, Senator Bernie Sanders at least. Not that that’s saying a whole lot, but Kelleher’s policies do tilt dramatically left of his Democratic opponent.
Kelleher brings the same spunky flare that he has brought to his politics for the past four decades, where he’s lost 15 of his 16 bids for public office. He’s run repeatedly as a Democrat and as a Green, so his allegiance to the Republican Party is nebulous at best. But that didn’t stop the 85-year-old Kelleher from winning by a margin of 10,000 votes last Tuesday, despite no cash and very little campaign organization.
The victory has left many veteran Montana election veterans scratching their heads in bewilderment. How did this guy win by running within the Republican Party? Ron Paul’s supporters came out in droves, but many don’t follow Kelleher’s socialist leanings. The most likely answer is two-fold. First, Kelleher’s name is well known, as his name has appeared on the ballot so many times. Second, it was a six-way race, splitting the votes among the rest of the right-wing and centrist pack, leaving Kelleher on the left, all alone.
Even so, it was still a substantial feat, and it just goes to show you can’t tell which way the winds are blowing the Big Sky state.
Kelleher wants a “non-violent” revolution to essentially dismantle the government in Washington, doing away with the presidency, Senate and House, and replacing it with a parliamentary body, where citizens don’t vote for individuals, but for parties. He wants massive Keynesian-style work programs to eliminate poverty; he favors real socialized medicine, an end to neoliberal trade policies, and a revamping of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, to name a few of his positions.
Kelleher’s opponent, Max Baucus, has already refused to debate Kelleher, and has said assertively that he is “not running against anyone”. Nonetheless, Baucus certainly deserves the challenge. He’s supported the invasion of Iraq, trade policies that have hurt working Montanans, and an agenda that is shaped by corporate influence, which has helped him amass over $10 million for a campaign he has said he basically is not going to run.
Democrats like Baucus don’t embrace competition, they ignore it. In doing so, however, Baucus may hurt himself, as he will be ignoring the wishes of tens of thousands of Montana voters that have giving Kelleher the green light to challenge him.
Sadly, the Republican Party is also shunning Kelleher’s campaign, with state party officials saying they will not back their candidate for U.S. Senate, as he’s a long shot. They’ll focus on “winnable” elections instead. That’s certainly not going to stop Kelleher, however, who’s obviously not deterred by the impossible.
And Kelleher doesn’t give a damn about his own party rejecting him.
“The party has actually no legal significance,” he said. “The party platforms are unenforceable. It’s a lie to voters to give them an impression that any party stands for anything.”
But Kelleher sure as hell stands for something, and he will likely get crushed in November as a result.
Nevertheless remember, this is Montana, and when it comes to politics and elections, anything can happen.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of Left Out! (Common Courage Press) and the co-editor, with Jeffrey St. Clair, of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (AK Press). Visit the new Red State Rebels website.