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Duce’s Wild: The forgotten Western voter

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Joy Kreikemier, left, and Valerie Erwin talk after casting their votes at Springhill School in Belgrade, Mont.

Joy Kreikemier, left, and Valerie Erwin talk after casting their votes at Springhill School in Belgrade, Mont.

Janie Osborne, AP

After listening to my prayer over breakfast on election morning, my 5-year-old was still rubbing sleepy eyes and deduced, “So today is a special day?”

“Yes, it’s Election Day. We get to vote for a president of the United States today,” I answered.

“I don’t want to vote,” she whined — but was then relieved when I told her she doesn’t vote until she’s 18.

I worry she might feel that same way when she’s older and wonder how her attitude compares to 5-year-olds in Ohio or Florida.

I think I speak for the rest of Montanans when I say that we’re like a neglected child whose faraway grandma forgot to send a birthday card — not only this year but every year. Our presidential candidates are hard-pressed to recognize we exist.

We know we don’t live in a key electoral state. We know we don’t have a lot of wealthy campaign donors. But we are Americans and I can’t figure out, in a presidential campaign that was ridiculously stretched for two years, why Gov. Romney nor President Obama — who each were in Ohio more than 80 times — couldn’t fit a quick Montana pit stop on their tour for the sake of the kids.

Shaking the hand of potentially the most powerful leader in the world makes an impression on a person, especially a young one who places her hand over her heart every morning to pledge allegiance to our red, white and blue flag.

John McCain came to Montana — four years after his own campaign. Sarah Palin graced the western side of our state two years ago. And Bill Clinton did visit our county eight years after he left the White House.

Republican leadership has taken Western voters for granted for far too long and I think that's one reason Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico have transitioned from red to blue. Montana is poised to follow in four years.

On the bright side, I recognize the blessing of being spared political shenanigans that include constant polling phone calls, blankets of signage and incessant television commercials.

Although few call or email or offer to drive rural Montanans to the polls on election morning, you can be sure that each precinct is busy early. It’s a matter of pride to cast your vote before some pundit in an earlier time zone calls the election.

Although a predictably red state, Montanans have been led by a Democratic governor for eight years and will be for another four. McCain only nabbed our three electoral votes with 50 percent of the popular vote while President Obama garnered 47 percent in 2008. It was close again this year.

We’re actually an interesting melting pot of diverse citizens who have chosen to live with a little space among more deer and elk than people.

Most Montana voters aren’t undecided. They know where they stand. And most of the time, in a neighborly way, we agree to disagree and then change the subject to something much more interesting and unifying — like the latest tale of successful hunting harvests.

But we do believe in the necessity of a strong leader — one who is honest, wise and aware of what ails us.

So with perspective as wide as our open spaces, it’s only the candidates who miss rich opportunities when they skip campaigning in Montana and in other Western neighborhoods.

Unless, of course, you count our wide-eyed kids whose patriotism is genetic but could use a little celebratory boost before they turn 18.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com