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Brian Schweitzer Eyes the Future

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver overshadowed several other high-profile pols. (Keith Bedford/Bloomberg News)

From the moment Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer left the stage following his wildly well-received speech in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, the questions began about his political future.

Might he wind up on the national ticket in 2012 or, ideally for Democrats, 2016? Perhaps a cabinet appointment if Barack Obama wins in November? Or maybe even if John McCain wins?

And, with the news earlier this week that Schweitzer would headline Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, the buzz surrounding the Montana governor grew louder still. The steak fry is a HUGE political event for Democrats in the state; in 2006 it served as the launching pad for Obama's presidential bid when he starred at the event.

(A Fix side note: No politician, we repeat NO politician, just happens to go to Iowa. Every one of them knows that an Iowa trip means the press will float the idea of a presidential run. So, don't believe them if they say otherwise.)

In an attempt to help offer some answers on what's next for Schweitzer, The Fix sought out several Democratic operatives familiar with the state's politics to gauge their opinion on just that question.

First and foremost, they agreed, Schweitzer needs to get reelected this fall to a second term -- a win that seems almost certain given the lack of funding for his Republican opponent state Sen. Roy Brown.

Should he win, Schweitzer would have his job through 2012 -- a nice time to begin thinking about other options, no?

What those options are is entirely dependent on what happens this fall.

If Obama wins this fall, Schweitzer would almost certainly be in the mix for Secretary of Energy or Interior; the Post's own Warren Brown has already written that regardless of the identity of the next president he should appoint Schweitzer to head the energy department immediately upon taking office.

Should Obama come up short in November, the consensus among those we spoke to was that Schweitzer would make sure his name was in the presidential mix in 2012. "He loves Montana but if the opportunity arose, I would think that Brian would seriously look at running for the big office," said one Democratic strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly about Schweitzer's future prospects. "If Obama doesn't win, Brian will take a long hard look at 2012."

But, is Schweitzer ready for that sort of national spotlight? The answer we arrived at is a definite maybe.

On the one hand, Schweitzer is roundly praised as an enormously gifted politician who came from nowhere -- literally -- to nearly knock off Sen. Conrad Burns in 2000 (Sen. Jon Tester finished off the job six years later) and then parlayed that race into a gubernatorial bid in 2004 in which, from beginning to end, he was the favorite.

Schweitzer's "tell it like it is" manner is appealing to voters; one Democratic source who has followed his career closely described Schweitzer as "one of the five best retail politicians alive today." The source added: "He has instincts they make movies about, an idea a minute and you will NEVER outwork him, ever."

Schweitzer's western roots and symbol as the new face of Western Democrats appeal to donors on both coasts -- meaning that if he did decide to run, there would be a significant group of donors who would back him.

That said, Schweitzer is the ultimate individualist who, by all accounts, does not play well with others and whose tendency to micromanage his political life suggests a "not ready for prime time" aspect.

"The problem with Brian is that he's like a flame," said one longtime Democratic observer of Montana politics. "It gets worse the closer you get." The source went on to note that Schweitzer has struggled to push his agenda through the legislature due to his style.

The other major issue for Schweitzer is the apparent belief that when it comes to all things political, he knows best. He has proven himself an extremely able politician but no one person can build the sort of machine necessary to run for president -- especially when that person is serving as governor. Schweitzer would need to begin putting together a political team if he wants to seriously consider a national bid in 2012 or 2016 -- depending on the circumstances.

"The step he still hasn't taken -- and it's not clear why not -- is to surround himself with people as smart as him," said one knowledgeable Democratic strategist. "All the great politicians do, he hasn't."

Steve Murphy, a longtime Democratic media consultant who is handling Schweitzer's ads in this contest, argued the opposite, however. "Brian Schweitzer is damn smart politically, that is true, but he has not been difficult for us to work with in any way," said Murphy. "Quite the contrary, he has a story to tell and he's determined to tell it well, so we're on the same page, paragraph, word and letter, and have been since he hired us."

It's clear that Schweitzer -- whatever his strengths and weaknesses -- will be heard from on the national scene in the years to come. At 53, Schweitzer has years still ahead in political life and, even if Obama is elected to two terms, would only be 61 years old in November 2016.

In other words, keep an eye on him. Schweitzer is a rising star.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 10, 2008; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Eye on 2008  
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Next: Obama and the Anger Calculation



Posted by: dardart | September 17, 2008 12:02 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: coboacelelta | September 16, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: coboacelelta | September 16, 2008 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Joshua -- yes, as a Montanan, I think you are correct that Schweitzer's style (and positions on some issues) wouldn't work as well in a nationwide race as they do in Montana. Not to say that it couldn't happen. But I think he's not liberal enough to win a Democratic primary race for president. And he has a tendency to say things that could come back to haunt him, as I mentioned below. This story is in the Montana papers again today, with the headline in at least one paper that there is "a bit of truth" to the bad joke he made about rigging the Tester-Burns election:

This story may have "legs" after all. (The effect on his reelection bid this year will be negligible, though. I think his worst-case scenario is that he wins by 9 points instead of 12.)

Posted by: acasilaco | September 12, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

By all reports I've seen Schweitzer is an extremely able governor and a fascinating character. But I haven't had a chance to track him too closely or try to evaluate how that character would play outside of a state election. Would he be like Richardson--not able to take the spark national? A little too outrageous to make people feel comfortable with him in a national office? Anybody with familiarity with Montana like to weigh in?

Posted by: Joshua Rodd | September 12, 2008 5:37 AM | Report abuse

Brian Schweitzer's ideas are what the Democratic party needs if they want a headlock on this country for the next several decades. The question is whether or not the Democratic party is ready for Governor Schweitzer. He is governor of Montana: a state of mostly common sense and conservative values. The country would elect him, but will the Democrats give him the opportunity?

Posted by: muD | September 11, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse


On Letterman, Obama said that it made no sense to think he had been referring to Governor Palin as a pig--even grammatically. He said that, if you followed the logic of how the speech went, the statement would have been (grammatically speaking) that she was the lipstick (element of novelty) on McCain's old, not novel, policies. Have you never heard the expression? You should have, since McCain has used it over and over in his own history. Is any comment from here on out involving cosmetics necessarily about Palin? Why does it always have to be about her?? Sheesh.

Posted by: laragabrielle | September 11, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Here's what "K" is referring to:

Chris, your focus on Schweitzer is timely!
This just hit the Montana papers today. (I hadn't heard of it before.) I do not think it will sink his re-election bid (people here know of his penchant for colorful exaggeration), but I think it would hurt any shot he'd have at national office.

Posted by: acasilaco | September 11, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse


"...I thought Schweitzer would have made a good VP choice this year..."

I bet you did! Still do, huh?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Schweitzer made his name helping senior citizens bus up to Canada for "cheaper" prescription drugs. PRO consumer.

Now, Schweitzer says that consumers should pay 3 or 4 times as much for electricity from "alternative" sources as they pay now for coal power. ANTI consumer.

The Schweitzer balloon will pop. The public supports "environmentalism" because liars like Al Gore say its free, and that the higher costs will be paid for by corporations. The truth is that consumers will pay the higher prices, and as soon as the liars are unmasked, the polling on the environment changes.

Posted by: Razorback | September 11, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Sweitzer has put his foot in his mouth in a speech last summer before the trial lawyers bragging that he adjusted the dials on the election in 2006 in Silver Bow county, he has apologized but after all the good he has done this will kill his chances for national office. The R's don't have to make something up he has wrecked himself.

Posted by: K | September 11, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

No'Bama needs something all of a sudden.

As Biden "borrowed" from Neil Kinnick
(and keeps hair-plugging along....
"stand up for Chuck"....)No'Bama, after
seeing the latest polls, will "borrow"
from Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles...
"Where are the White Women?"

Posted by: NO Bama fan | September 11, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Since seeing Schweitzer's speech at the convention, I have been hoping for a Clinton/Schweitzer ticket in 2012. That would be a powerful way of getting the Democrats back in the White House.

Sadly enough for Joe Biden, this year's a write-off, but we have a lot to look forward to.

Posted by: Lynn | September 11, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Sexist? The McCain campaign is handing out buttons with Palin's picture and the words, "The Hottest VP from the Coolest State". How is that not sexist?

Posted by: DC | September 11, 2008 8:27 AM | Report abuse


OBAMA IS CRACKING - is this how Obama and his people are going to handle a National Security Crisis ???

Clearly Obama is NOT ready.

The way that Obama AND his paid staff bloggers at the Obama headquarters have attacked Sarah Palin over the past few weeks clearly PROVES THAT OBAMA IS NOT THE PERSON FOR THE POSITION OF PRESIDENT.




Posted by: 37th&OStreet | September 11, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Breaking news!

Breaking news!

Breaking news!

Obama when interviewed on Letterman just said that Sarah Palin was just Lip-stick for McCain!

How is that not sexist. Sarah Palin is not mere window dressing despite what Obama's pattern of thinking is.

Please feel free to repost this!!!!
This type of sexist attitude needs to be denounced.

Posted by: Maggie | September 11, 2008 12:13 AM

I saw a man being very glib and insensitive until he made this new reference on Letterman. Now I know it was sexist.

Posted by: Tamara | September 11, 2008 1:29 AM | Report abuse

Come on, folks. Let's keep the comments civil and on-topic. (In this case, Schweitzer.)

Posted by: acasilaco | September 11, 2008 1:02 AM | Report abuse


I can't wait for a head to head debate between Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama. Judging by how well Sen. Obama did with Fox News Mr. Bill O'Reilly, my money is on Sen. McCain. When Mr. Bill was interviewing Sen. O, Sen. O's eyes were constantly focused at the ground; also, he was fidgeting and speaking like a shy little girl. Sen. O seems intimidated by older men.

BTW, did you guys see Sen. Biden putting his arms around Sen. Obama to comfort him on stage? For a minute, I thought papa Biden was going to pick Sen. O's legs up, put some powder on his bottom and a pamper on him.

Posted by: SHY SEN. OBAMA | September 11, 2008 12:55 AM | Report abuse

Michigan Republicans plan to foreclose African American voters

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP's effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

State election rules allow parties to assign "election challengers" to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they "have a good reason to believe" that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a "true resident of the city or township."

The Michigan Republicans' planned use of foreclosure lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being "true residents."

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

"You can't challenge people without a factual basis for doing so," said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based public-interest law firm. "I don't think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance."

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, "mean-spirited."

GOP ties to state's largest foreclosure law firm

The Macomb GOP's plans are another indication of how John McCain's campaign stands to benefit from the burgeoning number of foreclosures in the state. McCain's regional headquarters are housed in the office building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The firm's founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.

The Macomb County party's plans to challenge voters who have defaulted on their house payments is likely to disproportionately affect African-Americans who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. More than 60 percent of all sub-prime loans -- the most likely kind of loan to go into default -- were made to African-Americans in Michigan, according to a report issued last year by the state's Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Challenges to would-be voters

Statewide, the Republican Party is gearing up for a comprehensive voter challenge campaign, according to Denise Graves, party chair for Republicans in Genessee County, which encompasses Flint. The party is creating a spreadsheet of election challenger volunteers and expects to coordinate a training with the regional McCain campaign, Graves said in an interview with Michigan Messenger.

Whether the Republicans will challenge voters with foreclosed homes elsewhere in the state is not known.

Kelly Harrigan, deputy director of the GOP's voter programs, confirmed that she is coordinating the group's "election integrity" program. Harrigan said the effort includes putting in place a legal team, as well as training election challengers. She said the challenges to voters were procedural rather than personal. She referred inquiries about the vote challenge program to communications director Bill Knowles who promised information but did not return calls.

Party chairman Carabelli said that the Republican Party is training election challengers to "make sure that [voters] are who they say who they are."

When asked for further details on how Republicans are compiling challenge lists, he said, "I would rather not tell you all the things we are doing."

Vote suppression: Not an isolated effort

Carabelli is not the only Republican Party official to suggest the targeting of foreclosed voters. In Ohio, Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County (around the city of Columbus) and the chair of the local GOP, told The Columbus Dispatch that he has not ruled out challenging voters before the election due to foreclosure-related address issues.

Hebert, the voting-rights lawyer, sees a connection between Priesse's remarks and Carabelli's plans.

"At a minimum what you are seeing is a fairly comprehensive effort by the Republican Party, a systematic broad-based effort to put up obstacles for people to vote," he said. "Nobody is contending that these people are not legally registered to vote.

"When you are comprehensively challenging people to vote," Hebert went on, "your goals are two-fold: One is you are trying to knock people out from casting ballots; the other is to create a slowdown that will discourage others," who see a long line and realize they can't afford to stay and wait.

Challenging all voters registered to foreclosed homes could disrupt some polling places, especially in the Detroit metropolitan area. According to the real estate Web site RealtyTrac, one in every 176 households in Wayne County, metropolitan Detroit, received a foreclosure filing during the month of July. In Macomb County, the figure was one household in every 285, meaning that 1,834 homeowners received the bad news in just one month. The Macomb County foreclosure rate puts it in the top three percent of all U.S. counties in the number of distressed homeowners.

Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent and Genessee counties were -- in that order -- the counties with the most homeowners facing foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. As of July, there were more than 62,000 foreclosure filings in the entire state.

Joe Rozell, director of elections for Oakland County in suburban Detroit, acknowledged that challenges such as those described by Carabelli are allowed by law but said they have the potential to create long lines and disrupt the voting process. With 890,000 potential voters closely divided between Democratic and Republican, Oakland County is a key swing county of this swing state.

According to voter challenge directives handed down by Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, voter challenges need only be "based on information obtained through a reliable source or means."

"But poll workers are not allowed to ask the reason" for the challenges, Rozell said. In other words, Republican vote challengers are free to use foreclosure lists as a basis for disqualifying otherwise eligible voters.

David Lagstein, head organizer with the Michigan Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), described the plans of the Macomb GOP as "crazy."

"You would think they would think, 'This is going to look too heartless,'" said Lagstein, whose group has registered 200,000 new voters statewide this year and also runs a foreclosure avoidance program. "The Republican-led state Senate has not moved on the anti-predatory lending bill for over a year and yet [Republicans] have time to prey on those who have fallen victim to foreclosure to suppress the vote."


Posted by: ENOUGH | September 11, 2008 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Here's the problem: It's not that he said she's lipstick. It's that the line was probably handed to him by Letterman's writers and he just took it, not analyzing the political damage that the line is going to cause. It's the compounding effect. This is not good for the Dems.

OMG... he better find a way to put Hillary on the ticket, because he really needs help with the "gals" -- oops, I just did an Obama.

Posted by: OhNotAgain | September 11, 2008 12:41 AM | Report abuse

Breaking news!

Breaking news!

Breaking news!

Obama when interviewed on Letterman just said that Sarah Palin was just Lip-stick for McCain!

How is that not sexist. Sarah Palin is not mere window dressing despite what Obama's pattern of thinking is.

Please feel free to repost this!!!!
This type of sexist attitude needs to be denounced.

Posted by: Maggie | September 11, 2008 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Schweitzer and Hillary or Hillary and Schweitzer in 2012 sounds OK, but they'll still have to beat President John McCain and Vice President Sarah Palin, which ain't likely. Don't bet on a Hillary/Schweitzer or Schweitzer/Hillary ticket though. The Democrat Socialists always nominate left-wing un-electable loon America--haters like Hanoi John Kerry and racist white--hater and Louis Farrakhan desciple Barack Obama. With their track record the Democrat Socialists could very well nominate someone like Al Sharpton, Jane Fonda, Bill Ayers, Louis Farrakhan, or Jerimiah Wright Jr. in 2012.

Posted by: madhatter | September 11, 2008 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Schweitzer/Warner '16 then?

Posted by: so | September 10, 2008 11:19 PM | Report abuse

I think we should take our team of Laywers and msear atrists to montana now and start digging

Posted by: ha | September 10, 2008 11:13 PM | Report abuse

in case you haven't figured it out yet....

McCain and Palin are lying to sell a product....

out right lying....

it's AMERICA's chance to sue the REPUBLICANS and make back some money....

take advantage of this opportunity do it as a citizen....I don't care what party you support....



clean up AMERICA, stop fraud in it's tracks.

saying Palin was against the Bridge to NoWhere and she stopped it...

no one stopped it, certainly not her...

that's called FRAUD, they're selling the REPUBLIC SCAMMMMMER product....

sue them for false advertising and fraud....

"tax and spend democrats," is also FRAUD

Ronald "Death Valley Dazed" Reagan and the bush teams have taxed and spent the United States into a deficit each time...

usually for $_TRILLIONS_$....a 4 year term...

going into Bechtel, KBR, Halliburton, und Carlyle Group achtung...

only the _CLINTON_years_ were deficitfree...

check it out, and while you're checking it out...

SEARCH on LIPS, bush, Victor ashe, Ken Mehlman, Karl Rove, Guckert, Gannon, ALL GAY...

the repulsive scammers

using the phrase "tax and spend" democrats is deliberate and MISLEADING


sue them....and sxxx down their throats after you win judgement...

that'll get some HEADLINES.....

and as far as lipsticks on pigs, anyone that compares her mug to that of a pit bull isn't concerned about feminism...

after all she'd rather her daughter got pregnant that she learn about birth control and responsible sex...

I have to say Biden calling off the dawgs on Palins' daughter

smells of Kerrys' dive....

why is he giving the wolverines a competitive edge????

these fxxxers lie as easily as other people relieve themselves...

they don't need a break, they need JAILTIME....

give it to 'em, help AMERICA OUT of it's MONETARY and ECONOMIC CRISIS of nation breaking proportions...

play fair???? MAKE THEM or WIN and then play fair...

SUE THEM into submission, and take their lives away.



Posted by: your buddy....someone much smarter than you ever dreamed of being... | September 10, 2008 9:10 PM | Report abuse


Did everyone hear see Perry Bacon's 5:45 p.m. dispatch over at The Trail?

Could Biden, a savvy politician and nobody's fool, be paving the way for a lateral to Hillary -- as the REAL "feminist" VP candidate?

Read Bacon's piece. There could be a September Surprise on the Biden burner...

Posted by: Outside the Box | September 10, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

He's got tremendous political talent, and his choice to get a respected moderate GOP state senator to be his running mate on the Democratic ticket was a brilliant stroke that sealed the '04 election for him. (Note - that worked in MT. I do not think that would work in a national election.) He might have a lot of difficulty in a Democratic primary, though, because what everyone needs to remember is that a moderate Democrat in Montana would probably be considered a conservative Republican on the east coast. (For one thing, he loves guns, like everyone in MT. He actually said guns are a "family value" in MT, which is quite true.) I don't think he could win a primary race. But he could be a possible VP pick.

(Just FYI, I'm a politically-involved Montanan, but I don't know Schweitzer personally.)

Posted by: acasilaco | September 10, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

He's a dead ringer for Jackie Gleason!

Same expressions, same movements.

Too clownish for the Oval? But he'd fit right in over on Capitol Hill.

Senator Schweitzer -- the great one!

And a-way we go!

Posted by: Art Carney | September 10, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

And this 2008 Presidential Election Weekly Poll says it all. You Won't Believe These Results!

See What America Thinks!

Posted by: brandon | September 10, 2008 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Lipstick on a pig,
hockey mom from Alaska
snowmobile, gun freak

Posted by: The Hai-kook | September 10, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse

mnteng- I was just thinking the same thing, after submitting the last comment.

Posted by: bsimon | September 10, 2008 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"Secretary of the Interior or Energy isn't exactly a springboard, is it?"

Not historically, but then the Senate isn't either - and whomever gets elected this year, that streak gets broken.

Posted by: bsimon | September 10, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

John in Mpls:

That Energy Secretary thing didn't do much for Richardson, did it?

I agree with your analysis but I would add one caveat. If the two candidates are to be believed, they will emphasize energy independence to a much larger extent than ever before (since 1977 when the Department of Energy was created). That should mean that the Energy Secretary will really have a chance to shine -- or fail spectacularly. It might provide a unique opportunity to show executive efficacy in the federal government for a politician who aspires to POTUS.

Posted by: mnteng | September 10, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

After watching a Charlie Rose interview last year, I was impressed with Schweitzer. After his convention speech, he seems a bit spaztic for a presidential candidate. I think a tenure in the Cabinet would do him some good - and us too.

Posted by: bsimon | September 10, 2008 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Schweitzer is great! He would be a good nominee. And if he takes on Sarah Palin, look out! She is a nothing candidate. She has no idea how to govern a country, let alone a state. Let's face it, she's a CELEBRITY. Schweitzer would devour her. No amount of lipstick can save this second-rate beauty queen!

Posted by: Tom | September 10, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Politically speaking, does Energy Secretary have as much upward mobility as governor?

That is to say, if Gov. Schweitzer is eyeing the Oval Office, would it not be more prudent to continue in his current capacity and spurn any possible cabinet offers from either President Obama or McCain?

If memory serves, the last president who served on the cabinet of a previous administration was Hoover, who was (ironically) Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge.

Secretary of the Interior or Energy isn't exactly a springboard, is it?

Posted by: John in Mpls | September 10, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I thought Schweitzer would have made a good VP choice this year.

Posted by: Beth in VA | September 10, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Chris, for this "heads up".

Alan in Missoula, we want your thoughts. Also, we want you to eml me at

All will be revealed.

Posted by: MarkInAustin | September 10, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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