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State GOP looks ahead on low-key evening
Montana Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown stands with his wife, Kim, before conceding the race to incumbent Brian Schweitzer at the Holiday Inn on Tuesday.

Subdued tones and low-key conversations marked the Republican Election Day party at the Holiday Inn Grand in Billings on Tuesday as nearly silent televisions and a small army of laptop computers flashed results that predicted major losses nationally and statewide for the GOP.

Around 9 p.m., Montana's lone congressman, Denny Rehberg, spoke to about 100 party faithful, indirectly acknowledging the power shift in Washington, D.C.

Rehberg, whose re-election was assured early in the evening, said he could spend the next congressional session sharing the knowledge he has gained during his past eight years in office.

"As the Congress changes and as the presidency changes, there's going to be some interesting times for Montana," Rehberg said. "I can help educate."

At 9:28 p.m., an upbeat Roy Brown gave his concession speech after an unsuccessful run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

"We fought the good fight despite being outspent 3 to 1," Brown said.

Then he won the loudest applause of a quiet night by urging the party faithful to immediately start working on the next campaign.

"Sometimes we have to go through the quenching fire to taste the victory in the future," Brown said.

His running mate, Steve Daines of Bozeman, saw a bumper sticker he liked and had a T-shirt made for his 17-year-old daughter, Annie Daines, who wore it to the party.

Inside the shape of the state of Montana were the words, "Hey, Alaska! Wanna trade governors? We'll throw in two Senators. Montana for McCain/Palin."

Steve Ventling, who lives on Poly Drive in Billings, said he was surprised that his hand-lettered yard sign made international news on the Internet. After someone replaced his yard sign with an Obama sign, Ventling was so angry that he painted a message: "On 10/3, Obama supporters vandalized-tresspassed and stole my Palin-McCain sign violating my 1st amendment right to free speech. Do it again and you will find out what the 2nd amendment is all about!!!."

The sign drew laughs at the party. Ventling said someone told him that the Miami Herald named his sign the nation's best yard sign.

As legislative candidates and party strategists hovered around numerous laptop computers tracking election results, one man hugged a woman and told her, "Hang in there."

By the time President-elect Barack Obama began his acceptance speech, the party started thinning out, some watching the speech with arms folded or hands in pockets.

Early in the evening, Randy Vogel, a longtime campaign activist and former state director for Rehberg, looked at the early national results and was pessimistic.

"Right now, Republicans are getting their butts kicked," Vogel said. "Everything else aside, I still believe Montana will go for McCain."

Laurel businesswoman Peggy Miller, whose husband, Ken Miller, is a former state Republican party chairman and legislator, said there is opportunity in loss.

"When you are in control, you get complacent. The Democrats get complacent and Republicans get complacent, so they go and fight harder the next time," Miller said.