By Dustin Hurst ǀ Watchdog.org
MISSOULA — Montana Republicans descended upon this liberal stronghold Thursday, and two statewide candidates were quick to throw out the red meat and set the tone for the party’s convention.
Brad Johnson, the GOP nominee set to take on Democratic Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and Tim Fox, the party pick for attorney general, took to the stage at the Hilton Garden Inn to energize party loyalists.
Johnson, who held the post he’s again seeking from 2005 through 2009, told convention-goers that he immediately would seek repeal of Montana’s same-day voter registration, a practice he believes ripens the state for election fraud.
“If we fail in our responsibility to preserve and enhance the integrity of the elections process in this state … all of these other debates become moot, because the wheels come off of this great democracy of ours without an elections process we can believe in,” Johnson said.
He also pledged, if elected, that he would pursue legislation to require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.
Fox, set to duel with Democrat Pam Bucy, a state attorney from Helena, said he’ll work on economic development as attorney general. As a member of the state’s Land Board, which makes critical decisions on natural resource development, Fox said he will seek expansionist policies to generate private-sector jobs and additional tax revenue.
“We know how to make Montana a better place,” Fox said, adding that “extremists” are seeking to shut down Treasure State mining, logging and drilling.
Fox also delivered some anti-federal government rhetoric, claiming he would block Washington, D.C.’s efforts to overreach “on our state sovereignty.”
Republicans face an uphill battle to capture the attorney general post. A GOP official hasn’t held the post since 1993, when Marc Racicot left the job to run for governor.
Johnson, who pleaded guilty to a driving under the influence charge in 2010, also gave a nod to his troubles and thanked Republicans for seeing past them.
“As many of you know, there have been some rough spots in my life over the past couple of years,” Fox said. “And Tuesday night, you made it clear that you stood with me through thick and thin.”
Johnson emerged as the secretary of state nominee after a winning the four-way June 5 primary.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I promise you, I will not let you down,” he said.
Republicans are in Missoula until Saturday to set their party platform. GOP folks will hear from gubernatorial nominee Rick Hill on Friday, along with U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who’s vacating Montana’s lone congressional seat to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester for the U.S. Senate seat.
Former Republican president candidate Newt Gingrich will address the GOP troops early Saturday morning.