- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Some Republicans are calling the three-way race for state chairman a sign of the party’s strength while others say it reveals division within the ranks.

The Helena Independent Record (http://goo.gl/NckYph ) reports the debate came on the first day of the Montana GOP convention Friday, a precursor to Saturday’s election, which will decide who leads Montana Republicans through the 2016 election cycle.

Incumbent Will Deschamps is being challenged by Jeff Essman, a Republican representative and former senator from Billings; and Dan Happel, a longtime Republican from Pony who has served on the state central committee, the party’s executive board and as a county commissioner.

“We think that’s a good thing that shows we have an active and vibrant state party,” GOP Executive Director Chris Shipp said about the race.

Essman agreed, saying he respects Deschamps’ service as chairman and the three-way race is just healthy competition within the party, not a sign of discord.

“I would rue the day there’s only one candidate for positions of leadership in the Republican party,” he said.

There was a three-way race during the last GOP leadership election at the 2013 convention, but Deschamps said the dissent seems to be louder this year.

A lot of talk among attendees at this year’s convention focused on the need to get Republicans back on the party platform. During the 2015 Legislature, a small group dubbed responsible Republicans voted against the majority of their party on major issues like Medicaid expansion.

“In the Legislature the party appears to be fractured because they voted different ways,” Deschamps said, adding that “there’s a lot of frustration in the party and it’s coming from both wings.”

The election is scheduled for early Saturday afternoon.

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Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com

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