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McCain holds on to win state

HELENA - Although hugely anticlimactic after Barack Obama's national presidential victory Tuesday, Republican John McCain did win Montana, despite a limited effort compared with Obama's spending, organization and visits here.

Obama led in Montana early, but McCain overtook him as the evening wore on.

With all votes counted, the Associated Press said the unofficial tallies showed McCain won 50 percent of the votes in Montana, while Obama had 47 percent.

Trailing were Ron Paul, a Constitution Party of Montana candidate, with 2 percent; Ralph Nader, an independent, with 1 percent; and Bob Barr, a Libertarian Party candidate, with less than 1 percent.

McCain captured 44 of the 56 counties. They included Yellowstone, the most state's most populous, and fast-growing Flathead and Gallatin counties, which usually are Republican counties.

Obama took 12 counties - a mix of Democratic strongholds like Missoula, Silver Bow, Deer Lodge, Cascade and Lewis and Clark, plus counties with large American Indian votes, such as Glacier, Hill, Blaine, Roosevelt, Rosebud, Big Horn and Lake.

Obama's campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Montana. Expenses included an extensive television ad buy, the cost of opening 18 offices around the state and at least 40 paid Obama staff members.

During the Democratic primary, Obama traveled to Montana three times and visited several cities each time. After winning the Montana primary, Obama and his family spent the Fourth of July in Butte, and he stopped in Billings during the Democratic National Convention on his way to Denver. His running mate, Joe Biden, stumped in Kalispell.

McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, never visited Montana.

That was by design.

"My instinct was telling me John McCain was able to win this one with the organization we had in place," said state Republican Chairman Erik Iverson.

"We had six offices (statewide) and a pretty finely tuned get out the vote from 2006. We just kept telling the McCain campaign that this isn't the kind of place you need to worry about.

"Bottom line, if you aren't winning states like Virginia and Ohio, it doesn't matter what happens in Montana. We thought we could hold down the fort in Montana and we could win in the state."

He said the Republican National Committee spent some money on TV ads on McCain's behalf in Montana late in the campaign. Former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, who headed McCain's Montana campaign, said he pushed to get the money spent here.

Obama's Montana spokesman, Caleb Weaver, said he wasn't able to comment Wednesday on the Montana race.

Montana Democratic Party spokesman Kevin O'Brien said he didn't necessarily see it as a defeat for Obama.

"Barack Obama had a higher percentage of votes in Montana than any Democrats did since 1964," he said. "To see how much of a difference Barack Obama made in this state, you have to go no farther than the first Land Board meeting of next year."

All five Land Board members will be Democrats; four now are.

"He's activated and energized tens of thousands of volunteers that had never been involved in the process before," O'Brien said. "It should pay dividends down the road for our party and for our ground game."