MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA (AP)
Four presidential hopefuls are planning a last-minute plea to persuade voters in today's Republican caucus. Sen. John McCain, Rep. Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee will each speak directly with voters during a conference call tonight at caucus sites across the state, the Montana Republican Party said Monday. Huckabee was scheduled to speak first at 6:40 p.m., followed by McCain, Paul and Romney, said Chris Wilcox, executive director of the state Republican Party. The campaigns have been working hard to woo the 1,817 eligible Republicans voting in Montana's winner-takeall caucus. The leading vote-getter earns the state's 25 delegates to the Republican National Convention. State Republicans who established the caucus system last fall says it gives Montana a new relevance in the candidate selection process. "This is a fantastic opportunity to play a role in the presidential primary process when it is relevant that is not an opportunity we have had before in Montana," Wilcox said. "It has also been great at building excitement in the party." The first caucuses will be held midday in Sheridan and Judith Basin counties. Most counties hold their meetings in the early evening, with final vote tallies expected by 10 p. m. Among the candidates, Romney has had the strongest presence in the state, established following his visit to the state convention last summer. Secretary of State Brad Johnson, a Romney supporter, said Monday he believes Romney is picking up momentum And will do well in Montana. The McCain campaign changed directions at the last minute, ousting Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger as state chairman. Bohlinger was replaced by former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who is still well liked by many of the Republican insiders who hold a vote in today's caucus. Huckabee's campaign, led by well-known Bozeman businessman Steve Daines, picked up the endorsement of former Gov. Judy Martz last weekend. Meanwhile, Paul supporters have touted recent fundraising numbers showing strong financial support among Montana residents.