The fate of Montana's 25 votes for the Republican nomination remains uncertain even though Mitt Romney won the state in Tuesday's caucus.
Romney suspended his national presidential campaign two days after Super Tuesday, the busiest primary and caucus day of the campaign. but he hasn't given up his delegates yet. All 25 Montana Republican delegates are required to vote for Romney in the first vote at September's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. But after the first vote, the delegates can vote for whomever they please. Ultimately, Montana's delegates will be decided at a convention in June.
Only two things can release these delegates from their obligation to Romney at St. Paul's convention: Romney must completely withdraw as a candidate, or Romney can officially release the delegates to vote for the candidate of their choosing.
Romney suspended his campaign because he wants to prevent turmoil in the GOP, said Romney's Montana campaign manager, Chuck Denowh.
An internal division has split the Republican Party between McCain and Romney, he said.
"This makes it very difficult for him (Romney) to get the nomination," Denowh said.
If Romney does release Montana's delegates, all 25 should vote to nominate Ron Paul, said Ellen Finnegan, an organizer for the Missoula Ron Paul 2008 Meetup Group.
In the caucus, Paul won Missoula County and placed second in state with 25 percent of the vote to Romney's 38. John McCain won 22 percent and Mike Huckabee won 15 percent.
In 2007, Ron Paul also raised almost $89,000 in Montana, more than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, according to the Federal Election Commission. Romney received less than half that, $41,500 in contributions from Montanans.
"If the people of Montana have any say, Ron Paul should get the delegates," Finnegan said.
Missoula's Ron Paul Meetup Group includes about 100 members, and they still support their candidate even though a nomination is far out of reach, said member Tim Danyo. Paul only has 16 delegates of the required 1,191 for nomination. Even so, Danyo says he believes Paul will stay in the race until the end.
"He wants to take it as far as he can take it," Danyo said.
Paul wants to get his message out there, Danyo said. There's a groundswell in the GOP for change, he said.
"Right now we're in the beginning phases of something amazing," Danyo said.
Before Montana's caucus, The Ron Paul Meetup Group convened weekly, but since then they've decided to cut it down to once a month and focus their efforts in a different direction, said member Cody McGrath.
The Meetup Group is pushing for more libertarians in local and state government positions, Finnegan said.
"We want to see more Ron Pauls going for Congress and the presidency," she said.
But for Ron Paul, things aren't looking good.
Montana's 25 delegates are still Romney's and Romney hasn't thrown in the towel.
"He's just evaluating where things are at," Denowh said.
Denowh said he was surprised to see Romney stop and stand still in the middle of the campaign trail, but he doesn't foresee Romney rejoining the trek for nomination.
"We'd have to see a pretty drastic shift in the race," Denowh said. "And there's not a high probability of that."
McCain has gained control of the Republican race with 723 delegates to Romney's 286.
Many people didn't expect McCain to gain such a lead since he leans in the liberal direction, said Allie Harrison, president of UM College Republicans.
"A month ago, if you raised your hand and said, 'I support McCain,' you probably would have been booed out of the room," Harrison said.
Unpredictability is one defining characteristic o this election, Harrison said. But because McCain is in the lead doesn't mean he's won the Republican ticket yet, she said.McCain still needs 468 delegates for the nomination.
Because of the unexpected changes for Republicans, Harrison isn't willing to stake a claim on any candidate yet, she said.
"I almost feel like a fool for even venturing a guess," Harrison said.
Harrison and others are thankful Montana held its caucus in February instead of June, even though the state's 25 delegates may eventually go to someone else then Romney, the candidate Montana chose, she said.
"If we waited till June, this already would have been decided," Harrison said. "We'd pretty much have one choice, John McCain. So, thank God we didn't."
© 2008 Montana Kaimin via U-WIRE