Missoula has long been known as a party town (welcome back, UM students), but this year that reputation can be better described as a third-party town. That's because Missoula is largely responsible for landing two minor party presidential candidates a spot in Montana's general election this November.
About a month back, the Indy published a story about UM law student Danielle Breck's effort petitioning the state to add Green Party candidate Jill Stein to the ballot. The initiative was anything but a slam-dunk. Petitions require 5,000 voter signatures to qualify, and the Green Party hadn't made it onto a Montana ticket since David Cobb's bid for the White House in 2004.
The work paid off, however. The Montana Secretary of State's office last month tabulated 7,368 signatures from 22 Montana counties supporting the Stein petition. Missoula County blew the rest of the state out of the water, putting up 41 percent of those signatures3,024 to be exact.
The Stein campaign had a strong presence in Missoula leading up to the Aug. 17 petition deadline. As Breck told the Indy in August, half of the dozen paid staffers spearheading the petition were stationed here, as were some 30 volunteers. While that may explain the heavy showing for Stein, it doesn't do much to answer why Missoula voters seemed almost equally swayed by another third-party contender.
After failing to gain anything remotely resembling traction in the Democratic presidential primary this year, San Diego real-estate tycoon Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente did what any millionaire with a bunch of leftover "Rocky 2016" shirts would do: He formed his own American Delta Party. The move allowed De La Fuente to petition for inclusion on the ballot in a number of states, and according to his public affairs team, he turned to Austin-based consultant and former Rand Paul signature gatherer Trent Pool for help in Montana.
The result? De La Fuente made it on the ballot. His campaign succeeded in collecting 5,450 signatures from five Montana countieswith 2,658 of those coming from Missoula.
The 2016 cycle also includes a cast of Libertarian stalwarts—Gary Johnson, Mike Fellows, Ron VanDevender—but their presence in past Montana elections means their party now automatically qualifies for the ballot. Which means if those Missoula signatures translate into votes, American Delta could be a shoo-in for 2020.