Tea Party conservatives have filed to run as Democrats in at least eight Montana primary races, according to reports.
Mike Comstock is running as a Democrat for Montana’s Senate District 34, although he won a Republican primary for District 32 in 2010 but lost in the general election.
“I like to think of myself of a Democrat, maybe along the lines of John F. Kennedy, Mike Mansfield, or John Tester,” said Comstock, who then claimed his views run right down the middle of the political spectrum.
“When I jumped in the race, the opponents were running as Republicans, so I decided to run as a Democrat, so if there was a Democrat running, I would have run as a Republican,” Comstock told KTVM-TV.
But the blog Montana Cowgirl claims Comstock is, in fact, a self-professed “Tea Party extremist” and “one-world UN-controlled government” conspiracy theorist who believes the Muppets “have sold out to socialism and bad behavior.”
He’s running in the Democratic primary against April Buonamici, who said party members asked her to run against Comstock.
“Republicans can cross over and vote in the Democratic primary, so they could vote for Comstock, that is the only way he would win this,” Buonamici said.
Montana allows candidates to file for any party they like, and it’s not uncommon for candidates to switch parties from campaign to campaign.
But the recent trend signals something that is potentially more troubling, Democratic Party officials said.
“It appears there’s an organized effort to file tea party Republicans as Democrats,” said Lauren Caldwell, Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee director. “It is sort of dirty politics at its worst. The goal appears to be to deceive voters.”
But Democratic Party members suspect Tea Party conservatives, who generally support Republican candidates, have crossed party lines in three other races in the state.
House District 62 candidate Dane Peeples, House District 63 candidate Laura Springer, and Senate District 32 candidate Harry Pennington each filed to run using the same address, reported KTVM.
Springer told KTVM that she used to consider herself a Republican but had become disappointed with the party, and she explained the shared address by claiming she was “between homes” and that Pennington was homeless.
So all three candidates filed using the Bozeman address of William Scott Joyner.
Springer decided to withdraw from the race Thursday, citing a family emergency, and Pennington, whose Facebook page is cluttered with racially charged comments calling for Obama’s impeachment, told an employee at a Bozeman cold weather shelter that he also planned to drop out of the race.
Peeples declined to comment, but Montana Cowgirl claimed he was a Tea Party member and active in the “Irregulars” militia group.
Gerald Cuvillier, a former Sanders County Republican Party official, has also filed to run as a Democrat for the House District 13 primary.
“I’m running as a conservative Democrat,” said Cuvillier, who could not name a single plank in the party’s platform. “I believe we need to get back to our constitutional principles.”
Cuvillier, who said the Republican Party was too liberal for his tastes, said he intended to reform the Democratic Party to become more conservative.
“That’s why I got away from the Republican Party,” Cuvillier told the Great Falls Tribune. “The Republican platform is really conservative, but only about 20 percent of the Republicans try to adhere to that platform. The rest of the Republican Party is not following their principles.”
Terry Caldwell, another Sanders County Republican, also filed to run as a “conservative Democrat” for House District 14.
“I don’t think any of the Democratic planks are very conservative at all,” Caldwell said. “As a whole their platform is quite liberal. What they need is an even balance.”
David Brownell, a Choteau-area conservative who ran in 2008 as a Republican for the Pondera County Clerk, filed to run as a Democrat in the Senate District 9 primary.
“I just don’t see eye to eye with some of the Republicans anymore,” Brownell said. “There’s no difference in being a very liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat. There are Republicans who vote constantly with the Democrats.”
Kathy Hollenback, whose campaign filing listed the same address as Gallatin County Republican precinct chairman Dave Ponte, filed to run as a Democrat in the House District 66 race.
She wrote a letter to the editor in 2010 criticizing incumbent Republican Rep. Ted Washburn’s votes to modernize the state code to include “gender neutrality,” fund facility grants for public schools, and increase taxes on alcoholic energy drinks.
A Republican Party official said they were unaware of the filings until Montana Cowgirl reported them, and the candidates’ actions were not coordinated with the party.
“The two places where this is happening, Sanders County and Gallatin County, have very, very conservative people with very, very conservative ideas,” said Montana Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps. “I don’t know what’s creating it, and I don’t know what they desire to accomplish. I think it’s a fool’s errand. I would rather people run on the philosophy of the Republican Party as Republicans.”
The filing deadline for the June 3 primary was Monday.