With former Vice President Joe Biden serving as the top-billed speaker at the 40th annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds on Saturday, it was certainly a hot ticket.
Guests began streaming in to the exhibit hall 90 minutes before the evening’s event began, the sellout event bringing in an estimated 1,300 Democrats. The crowd heard from nearly every speaker about finding unity, making sure talk turned into votes, and above all, re-elect Senator Jon Tester.
Biden, who took the stage an hour after he was scheduled and gave an impassioned, nearly hour-long speech, praised former Montana Sen. Max Baucus, and said Tester looks like “a guy who can lift an ox out of a ditch.” And, he said, the country needs him.
“There’s been no time when there’s a greater need to restore a sense of political accommodation,” Biden said. “Because the only way this country can be governed is to reach a consensus. You need to reach a consensus to get anything done. … Jon gets this. I like this guy. … Jon is a stand-up guy. Jon is authentic. His word is his bond. He challenges your arguments but never your character. It’s because he’s a man of real character.
“What is most missing today in our national political scene is women and men with enormous character. Because character’s destiny. We desperately need women and men of character in both political parties who know what they believe, why they believe it, say what they’re gonna do and then do what they say. And there’s no one in the United States Senate today that understands that more than Jon Tester. … We need him in the Senate to set examples. To be an example to new members, Democrat and Republican alike. Even some of the women and men and who’ve been there.”
In a wide-ranging speech, Biden touched on many of his hallmarks, including healthcare, the middle class, and education. He spoke about the Republicans’ tax bill, saying that the only way the party will be able to pay for it is to “emasculate” social security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He talked about caring for our veterans returning from war, calling it a sacred duty.
“It’s about not forgetting,” he said. “We’ve gotta ask ourselves: What the hell do we stand for?”
President Trump’s name was mentioned just once in the speech, though the administration was continually referenced throughout the night – and no one took a bigger swing than Gov. Steve Bullock. He ran down the recent scandals and embarrassments in the White House, prefacing the list by saying “Now, I’m not going to go through the last year, because God knows we’d be here all night.”
“We try to teach our kids to be honest and respectful of others,” he said. “Yet we’re becoming so desensitized that we expect less of our President than we do our preschoolers. We deserve better.”
Bullock, though, like many on Saturday, said there is plenty of reason for optimism. He praised the power of public schools and touted the state getting more kids into pre-school this year – promising more next year.
Bullock touched on conservation and public lands, net neutrality and women’s rights. And, he said, “elections are won by people talking to people. Talk to people. And try something really wacky – talk to them in person.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney – who claims people are calling him the Joe Biden of Montana – said that Montana “is far from a red state,” and that he’s confident that it will send people from his party to Washington.
“We’re gonna fight to elect a member of Congress who has the guts to meet face-to-face with fellow Montanans.”
Tester talked about his family history, reinforcing how deep his Montana roots run. He spoke briefly about broadband access, his fight for community health care centers and fight to fund the state’s TRIO programs, which help first-generation college students earn a degree.
He took a few swipes, hitting Matt Rosendale for his flat top and Troy Downing for his pending court date, and said “Who would’ve ever thought the Republican party would’ve hated the FBI and loved Russia? It’s the damndest thing.”
Mary Sexton, the Chairwoman of the Montana Democratic Party, opened the night, mentioning that Baucus, John Walsh, Pat Williams and Carol Williams were all in attendance Saturday. Polite applause turned to cheers and a standing ovation, though, when she mentioned Tester.
A short time later, a fiery Nancy Keenan took the stage. The Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party had high praise for the young people working with and for the Montana Democrats. She then turned to roasting Ed Smith a bit, recognizing him for his longtime service. He’s spent the last 30 years as the elected clerk of the Montana Supreme Court.
Keenan turned up the intensity, telling the crowd that talk isn’t enough.
“The first rule of politics is showing up,” she said. “Yes, that means voting in November, but it starts now. It starts long before Election Day.”
Keenan praised Tester, saying “He is Montana’s Jon Tester.
“He’s shown up for us. Relentlessly. Every day. My friends, he showed up for us – we’d better damn (well) show up for him”
Keenan also criticized the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature for actions during the special session, cutting essential services, against recommendations of Gov. Bullock.
Keenan called for a unified party, one that believes in health care, clean water and air, “access to pristine and public lands, bar none,” free and fair elections, and said that “all Montanans should be treated with equality and justice and dignity.”
Rep. Jenny Eck, Montana’s House Democratic Leader, also pushed for unity and getting out the vote, saying that if nine more Democrats can be elected to the Montana House, the party can reclaim control and “stop playing defense.”
“This is a fight,” she said. “Our future is riding on this election on our ability to change course.”
Jon Sesso, the Democratic leader in the state senate, talked about hard work and pride.
“Be proud. I have never been prouder to be a Democrat.
“And now it’s time to get to work. … Everywhere you go you find Montana values, and everywhere you find those, you find Democrats.”
Sexton welcomed five Democratic Congressional Primary Candidates to the stage together: John Heenan, Grant Kier, Lynda Moss, Jared Pettinato, and Kathleen Williams. All took a few minutes making their pitch for why they are the pick to go up against Republican Greg Gianforte.
Pettinato in particular took aim at the freshman Republican, saying “Greg Gianforte failed us before he even started. We are going to send the body slammer packing!”