Montana Delegates Reflect on Politics in the New West

8-28-08

Montana’s delegates stood and waved their American flags just yards from the stage where Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president at the largest acceptance speech in American history.

On the floor of Invesco Field beneath the packed stadium seats, Jeanne Lemire Dahlman of Forsyth waved her flag and grinned, but she was somber, too.

“This is a historic time for Montana. I can’t remember a more critical time. It’s deadly serious,” she said, leaning close to be heard over the roar of the crowd. It was late afternoon, hours into the last day at the convention but still two hours from its conclusion.

“We have a lot of work to do. We can’t afford to make another mistake. When I get home, I’m going to do exactly what I’ve always done, but I’m going to do it harder and better,” she said. “I’m going to weed my garden, harvest a little bit and then get to work.”

Joan Vetter Ehrenberg of Whitefish stood on her feet and danced to Stevie Wonder as the sky above turned pale and evening crept up to the seats high behind the stage and podium.

“We’re going to turn Montana blue!” she hollered. “I’m fired up and ready to go. We all are. The whole state is. It’s a great time to be a Democrat in Montana, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

After former vice president Al Gore spoke, Christina Quijano of Red Lodge was at a loss for words. “It’s amazing,” she said. In response to what she was going to back in Montana, she said, “Sleep!”

Then she added, “I’m going to do some canvassing. I’m working to get my representatives elected. I’m going to organize a Democratic barbecue and share memorabilia and photos. It’s an emotional overload, but not bad.”

Julie French from Scobey said, “I’m thinking about how powerful it feels to have all of these women—the largest number of women in a national convention. I’m a Hillary supporter, still, with all of my heart. I’m so proud of her. She’s a world class-act, and I’m ready to go home and work my heart out for Obama!”

Carol Williams of Missoula has been to four other conventions, not as a delegate but as a guest of her husband, former Rep. Pat Williams. “I think all week it was just building in enthusiasm to a crescendo,” she said. “One of my girlfriends said something powerful to me before I left: ‘You’re there representing all of us. It’s bigger than you just being there.’ And I feel it.”

The evening slowly passed, speech by speech. Night fell and then the soaring stadium went nuts. Barack Obama took the stage and told the story of his life, saying his story was the American story. Between his words and the applause, the huge arena was silent, but for the rustling of wind.

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