April 01, 2008

Bill stumps for Hillary

Bill Clinton to court Native, rural votesBill Clinton's visit is yet another sign of Montana's importance this primary season. Both Clintons, as well as Obama, are visiting the state this week to woo votes in the state's June 3 Democratic primary. Nationally, Obama has a slight edge in the state delegates who will decide the nominee at the national convention in August. That means Montana's 17 state delegates, usually immaterial, are suddenly crucial to each candidate.

Hence, their sudden infatuation with all things Big Sky. And hence, especially, Bill Clinton's appearance in north-central Montana (he'll also stop in Great Falls Tuesday), home not only to the sort of more conservative rural and union Democrats presumably inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton, but some of the state's Indian reservations, along with the landless Little Shell Band of the Chippewa in Great Falls.

Havre “is out of the way. It's remote. It's cold. There aren't that many people,” said Craig Wilson, pollster and political science professor at Montana State University-Billings. “My guess is that he somehow wants to hook up with the Native American vote.”

Indian people have not forgotten Bill Clinton's visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1999, which made him the first sitting president to visit a reservation since Franklin Roosevelt. In that speech--nearly a decade before his wife became a presidential candidate--he specifically mentioned that Hillary Clinton had spent more time in Indian Country than any first lady in history.

“Indian people prospered more under his administration than any other,” said state Rep. Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar.

Clinton's visit to Havre will put him in proximity to the Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap reservations, as well as--farther away--the Fort Peck and Blackfeet reservations that bookend the Hi-Line.

“He has a lot of influence in those communities,” said Campbell, of the Fort Peck Reservation. “His coming up there is a real reminder to Indian Country of what the Clintons are capable of in terms of understanding Indian Country and being willing to really look at some innovative and long-term systemic ways of making changes, both social and economic.

“I think he's there to remind the tribes of that, and that's very smart of him,” she said.

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