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HELENA — Corey Stapleton, a Republican candidate for governor from Billings, said Tuesday that he has selected former state Senate President Bob Keenan of Bigfork to be his running mate.

From the time he got to know Keenan as a fellow senator in 2001, Stapleton said he was highly impressed with him.

"If I could run with anyone in the state, it would be him," Stapleton said.

Stapleton is one of seven Republicans running for governor this year to succeed Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who can't run again because of term limits. The GOP primary election is June 5.

Keenan served four years in the Montana House and eight years in the state Senate, serving as Senate president in 2003 and minority leader in 2005. In 2006, Keenan lost a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns.

Stapleton succeeded Keenan as Senate minority leader in 2007.

"To me what set him apart from the other people was he absolutely had no alternative motives," Stapleton said. "People didn't try to lobby him because he wasn't lobby-able, if that's a word. He would listen to people. He was fiercely independent. He just had a way of communicating to conservatives on all the main issues."

In addition, Stapleton said, when Republicans had to deal with issues that conservatives don't like to acknowledge, such as human services, long-range planning and the budget in general, "Bob would stand up and say, 'This is what we've got to do, people.'"

"The other thing that was really important to me is he allowed everyone to blossom," Stapleton said.

Keenan said he's pleased to join the ticket.

"It's my turn to follow him," Keenan said. "I absolutely know Corey has been trained at the government's expense (at the U.S. Naval Academy) to be a leader. He's a fantastic leader."

Stapleton said he asked Keenan to serve as his budget director while lieutenant governor, if they win, because he so respects his budget knowledge.

While honored and not ruling it out, Keenan said he probably wouldn't take the budget post if they win but would probably be in the thick of budget discussions.

"On the surface of it, I don't think that would be appropriate, but I absolutely know I would have the budget books all over the desk like I usually do," said Keenan, who chaired the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.

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Keenan suggested he'll be an active lieutenant governor, whatever his role.

"I understand the lieutenant governor thing," he said. "You're a name on the ballot and then you disappear traditionally. I'm too manic just to sit in that southeast corner of the building and gather dust."

Keenan said he didn't seek the job, but Stapleton would call regularly about the campaign and finally asked if he had interest in running.

"I said I'll have to think about it," Keenan said. "I'm done. I feel like Daniel Boone. I've done my time. I feel really good about what we've done."

Keenan said he's never had political ambitions and "always had that great American asset of being something of a contrarian."

"I looked at the field of candidates, and I truly believe that Corey is the ultimate candidate for the Republican Party. I'm afraid it's not about the usual Republican 'Who's turn is it now?'"

When Stapleton called back, Keenan said he told him he's ready to join the ticket and added, "Maybe I'll be a positive addition; maybe I'll hurt you."

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