Politicians around the country are gearing up for the 2014 midterm elections; for one Republican, building relationships with American Indian leaders in his state is a key.
Rep. Steve Daines has met with leaders of Montana’s seven federally recognized tribes ahead of his Senate seat run according to The Hill. Among those leaders Daines has bonded with Darrin Old Coyote, head of the Crow Tribe.
The American Indian population in Montana makes up almost eight percent of the state’s total. However, the American Indian population has traditionally voted for Democrats – proving to be an uphill fight for Daines.
For midterm elections, the Native vote has been known to drop drastically – by 60 percent between 2008 and 2010. With a significant drop, holding the current senate seat, held by retiring Max Baucus (D-Mont.), could be difficult for Democrats.
Daines is not new to Indian affairs. The freshman Congressman sits on the House Committee and its Indian Affairs subcommittee. The bond that Daines has built with Old Coyote came shortly after Daines was sworn into office. The Congressman started meeting with tribal leaders right away and the two leaders grew to become friends.
“It started the beginning of a relationship there that’s more than just politics,” Daines said according to The Hill.
The early meetings with tribal leaders have shown in his voting on tribal issues. He backed the Violence Against Women Act when many Republican men were against it.
“It’s very welcoming and very refreshing to have a friend in D.C. knowing your interest as a tribe and nation, your concerns and issues are being addressed and prioritized,” Old Coyote said of Daines in The Hill.
All of his work in forging a connection with Indian country is a direct contrast with his predecessor, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).
But it is not all well and good.
Many on the Democratic side of the ticket have issue with Daines and the position he took during the government shutdown.
“Daines is irresponsibly doing everything he can to make sure the reckless Republican government shutdown continues no matter how dire the consequences are for Montana,” according to a Democratic Senatorial Campaign press release.
The major issue was Daines’ backpedaling when it came to voting on a bill that he proposed to end the shutdown – instead he stuck with party lines, calling his bill a “political gimmick,” according to the Democratic press release. The shutdown hurt much of the country, but crippled parts of Indian country especially those tribes in Montana.
Another knock that could hurt Daines in gaining the American Indian votes in Montana is his position on the Affordable Care Act and his vote to repeal it. The Act, also known as Obamacare, features permanent authorization of the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act according to The Hill.
On the Democratic side of the Senate seat race is Montana Lieutenant Gov. John Walsh. His bio includes adjutant general of the Montana National Guard and commanded a battalion in Iraq, but he has never run for office and he has a short voting record as well according to The Daily Kos.
Daines’ ground work in Indian country is a concern for some within the Democratic Party as it shows the race in 2014 could be tough for a Democratic candidate according to a Montana-based Democratic strategist.
According to the strategist through The Hill, Daines is reading the Native vote playbook Rehberg never read.