Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy likes to feed his friends.
Unopposed for re-election this year, there was no reason to host one of his patented pig roasts that front for his fundraising.
"I just wanted to say thanks," he said Saturday afternoon, as supporters and friends, several of the Republican persuasion, joined Kennedy in his backyard for a summer lawn party. It was good food and good (political) conversation on a warm afternoon in the shade.
One of his friends is State Auditor John Morrison.
He dropped by Kennedy's picnic Saturday to make as many new friends as possible in the dwindling hours of this year's U.S. Senate primary election campaign — one in which every vote counts in a very tight race to determine who advances to the general election in November. Kennedy is Morrison's U.S. Senate campaign chairman in Yellowstone County.
Of the 935,670 people living in Montana, one of every nine resides in Yellowstone County where 89,008 of them are registered to vote.
For political candidates trying to win a statewide race, Billings and surrounding towns offer up the largest slice of the polling pie.
And they are competing for it.
Especially the two Democrats who want the opportunity to take on Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who is looking for a fourth six-year term.
Morrison was in Billings Saturday, in Helena and Great Falls on Sunday and was due back in Billings today.
State Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, and current Senate president, was at a rally in Billings Sunday to parlay the recent endorsement of former U.S. Sen. John Melcher, D-Mont., who lost his seat to Burns in 1988.
A Gazette State Bureau poll, taken May 22-24 by Mason Dixon Polling & Research, showed Morrison at 42 percent to Tester's 41 with 14 percent undecided and three other Democrats divvying up the rest.
While hustling votes is the name of the game, Morrison said the biggest surprise of the campaign is the process of fundraising. "The amount of money needed is amazing," he said.
Burns has suggested the race for Montana's Senate seat this year will cost $10 million. For sure, it will be that cumulatively, but Burns' camp may have to raise and spend that much alone. The non-partisan Cook Political Report has pegged Burns "as vulnerable as incumbents get."
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Morrison has raised $1.5 million and spent $1.1 million of it. Tester has raised about $850,000 and spent $663,000.
Burns has raised $6.21 million and spent $3.6 million.
Another surprise, said Morrison, is "how widely discussed the immigration issue has become."
Burns recently voted against the U.S. Senate bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens depending on several stipulations.
Burns calls it amnesty for law breakers. The Senate bill has to be reconciled with the House version that focuses on border security and ending the daily flow of illegals crossing the southern border.
All immigrants should earn citizenship according to the rules, Morrison said. He supports greater enforcement and sanctions for employers who knowingly hire illegals, and opposes amnesty.
The personal surprise for Morrison is how "all consuming" a campaign becomes. "There is not much time for anything else," he said.
Especially if one already has a full-time job.
A number of laws enacted by the 2005 Legislature affected the auditor's office. The state auditor is the securities and insurance commissioner and new laws on insurance, venture capital and credit scoring had to be implemented, he said.
"My first responsibility is to successfully implement those," Morrison said. "That's the best politics too."
Another cardinal rule of politics is do not ignore those who vote.
Which the elderly do.
For that reason, Morrison has touted in recent weeks his endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He announced it last week at the South Side Senior Citizens Center in Billings and today will host a rally there also.
As he moved from table to table under the lawn tents Saturday, Morrison made sure to visit with those who have a dog in that fight.
Contact Jim Gransbery at email@example.com or 657-1288.