Montana Democrats arrived in full force Friday for the 28th Annual Harry S. Truman Dinner, raising about $15,000 for Yellowstone County Democrats, vice chair of the group Becky Riedl said.
More than 200 people bought tickets to the event, and more than 300 people showed up at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center, Riedl said.
She said it was more than they expected. To accommodate, they had to bring in extra tables, but they still ran out of food.
Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. John Walsh and U.S. House candidates John Lewis and John Driscoll, as well as U.S. Senate candidates John Bohlinger and Dirk Adams, spoke at the event.
The keynote speaker was former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Nancy Keenan.
She said this election couldn’t be more important for Democrats. There’s a lot at stake, she said.
“There’s a Senate seat up for election that has been held by Democrats for 100 years,” Keenan said.
That seat was held by former Sen. Max Baucus for the last 36 years. When he became the U.S. Ambassador to China on Feb. 6, Gov. Bullock appointed then-Lt. Gov. John Walsh to his seat.
Now, Walsh is defending that seat against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines. He must first defeat Bohlinger and Adams in the June primary to advance to the November general election.
Five Republicans and two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination for the seat.
Toward the beginning of the night, the governor spoke about the economy, Medicaid expansion, job creation and about the need for early childhood education in the state.
“Every dollar we invest in early childhood education returns up to $9 to our community,” he said.
The governor implored people to get involved this election.
“You need to open up your checkbooks. You need to pound signs into the ground and stuff envelopes. You don’t like knocking on doors? You can take a break ... in December,” the governor said to cheers from the audience.
Lt. Gov. Angela McLean introduced Keenan, whose speech was brief, full of energy and to the point.
She thanked people for coming out, noted the importance of the election and talked about Democratic values.
She said those values were a cornerstone of “the Keenan house” growing up.
She said they led to loyalty, hard work and a “caring for your neighbor” attitude.
She also touched on environmental issues, saying that while energy “has been a part of our heritage” and “should be a part of our economic future,” we shouldn’t let it come at the expense of our environment.
“Every boom has a bust,” she warned.
When Walsh spoke, he said that the night felt like "history was repeating itself."
"Just two years ago, we had to fend off Congressman Dennis Rehberg. We had to make sure Jon Tester stayed in the Senate, where Montana needs him," he said.
"This November, we need to do it again."
The money from Friday night’s fundraiser will go to the Yellowstone County Democrats. Riedl said they usually allocate that money to local candidates.