50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 41. Montana

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

41. Montana

Capital: Helena

Nickname: Big Sky Country

Motto: Oro y Plata

(Gold and Silver)

About the State

Montana is the fourth largest state in the US in area, but ranks 44th in number of inhabitants, with just under a million residents, making it the third least densely populated – behind Wyoming and Alaska.  Before the area was settled by whites, it was home to Native Americans from various tribes including the Cheyenne, Crow and Blackfeet.  The region to the east of the continental divide – which includes everything except the portion of Montana that appears to have bitten a chunk out of Idaho in the Northwest – was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the United States doubled its size by acquiring territory from the French.

The first settlement established in Montana by immigrants from the Old World, was the St. Mary’s Mission, begun in 1841 and which was located at the site of the present day city of Stevensville.  After being part of the Dakota and Idaho Territories, the discovery of gold in the region led to the creation of the Montana Territory in 1864, the borders of which have remained to this day, including extending out to the Bitter Root Mountains in the northwest.

One of the most infamous military engagements in the nation’s history – the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand – was fought in Montana in June of 1876 as part of the conflict between the United States and the Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux tribes of Native Americans.  Although the battle was a victory for the Lakota – the only survivor from Custer’s forces was his horse, Comanche – in the longterm it resulted in more troops being sent by the United States and ultimately, a year later, the Native Americans had surrendered and given up their land around the Black Hill mountains.

Settlers moved to the Territory to mine for gold silver and copper, and to set up cattle ranches, with the population increasing further when the railroads reached the region in the 1880s.  On November 8th, 1889 Montana became the 41st state of the Union and its economy continued to develop through the mining of natural resources – including the discoveries of coal and oil – agriculture, where alongside cattle ranching, it also now ranks second in the nation for the production of lentils and barley.  Tourism is also a major sector of Montana’s economy, with the major attractions being Glacier National Park – which has 250 lakes – and Yellowstone National Park, as well as the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn.  The state has more species of mammals than any other and the average square mile in Montana has 1.4 elk, 3.3 deer and 6 humans.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 3

2008 Result: McCain 49.7% Obama 47.2%

Latest Poll: Romney +10%

Despite the state currently being represented by two Democrats in the Senate, Republicans have carried Montana in 13 of the last 15 Presidential elections, with the only exceptions being Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton in 1992.  President Obama was not too far behind Senator McCain in the 2008 election there, but Governor Romney currently holds a double-digit lead in the polls and is expected to extend the GOP’s record of success in the state.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in Montana this November, with incumbent Democrat, Sen. John Tester, seeking a second term against the current Congressman for the state, Rep. Danny Rehberg (R).  Current polls suggest the race is a toss-up, with Rehberg less than a point ahead, and the race is considered crucial to the chances of both the Democrats and the Republicans in their fight to have control of the Senate when the new session begins in January.

With Rehberg – the state’s one Representative in the House – seeking election to the Senate rather than defend his seat, the race for the At-Large district in Montana will be between Steven Daines (R) and Kim Gillan (D), with Daines expected to win.

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