Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Schweitzer revs 2016 presidential bid buzz with trip to Iowa

Brian Schweitzer speaks at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2008.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer doesn’t like to be out of the national headlines for very long.

For a guy who claims he’s simply content to run Stillwater Mining Co. and enjoy the view from his Georgetown Lake home, Schweitzer sure seems intent on fueling speculation that his sights are set on the White House.

In an interview published this week in the Weekly Standard, Schweitzer reiterated his fondness for the people of Iowa,  home to the nation’s first presidential primary contest, and he said he plans to visit all 99 counties there.

*Wink, wink.

The former governor also took shots at former First Lady, former Secretary of State, and 2008 Democratic presidential nominee runner-up Hillary Clinton, the presumptive front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2016.

Schweitzer speculated if Clinton were the Democratic Party’s nominee she  might “shift hard right on Day 1.”

“We can’t afford any more hard right,” Schweitzer said. “We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”


Calling Obama a “corporatist” and implying that Clinton would be a right-winger is one way to grab headlines in Iowa, where a recent Des Moines Register poll found that Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley “are little more than footnotes” to Iowa voters.

“At this time, they are simply fictitious names to most Iowa Democrats,” Republican strategist John Brabender told the Register. “You could make up names, and they would have roughly the same favorable/unfavorable scores as Schweitzer and O’Malley.”

If you’re former governor from a small conservative state in the Northern Rockies with ideas about pursuing the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, then generating headlines and the attention of Clinton and Obama supporters  might be the way to go.

The game is to create some buzz early, to generate grassroots momentum in places where it matters, and to show the party’s base that you’re the outsider who appeals to their core Democratic Party principles.

Schweitzer's actual record as governor probably means little to Democratic activists in Iowa. What he says about the establishment and how he appeals to their world view right now is what matters today.

Schweitzer may be a farmer and a soil scientist, but he ain’t no rube. This politics thing is a game Schweitzer knows well.

Schweitzer’s been honing his headline-grabbing prowess since he took on Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in the 2002 U.S. Senate race. Back then the political newbie dumped suitcases full of cash on the floor of the state Capitol to illustrate Burns’ ties to out-of-state corporate donors.

The tactic captured the imagination of voters across the state who liked his folksy, straight-talking brashness. Schweitzer, a previously unknown mint-farmer from the Flathead Valley, came within three points of unseating the incumbent Burns. He then parlayed that strong  campaign into a 2004 gubernatorial bid which earned him two terms as Montana’s chief executive.

Schweitzer, who twice spoke at the Democratic National Convention, decided against running for retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Max Baucus’ seat. But he has never said he doesn’t want to pursue higher office. 

Many of us who have watched Schweitzer closely over the years had difficulty imagining Schweitzer playing nice in the U.S. Senate as one member out of a hundred.

But the Presidency… that’s a different story.

It’s the ultimate challenge for a politician who loves to mix things up and who revels in the national spotlight. Even if he just toys around with the idea for a while, Schweitzer no-doubt loves the attention.

For me the bottom line is Schweitzer knows that if an insurgent campaign against a pillar of the Democratic establishment is even a remote possibility in his future, then Iowa’s the place to start and now’s probably the time to get started.

This week Schweitzer lobbed a few stones in Iowa’s political pond to see what kind of waves they would make. His comments are rippling through news feeds and Twittersphere of the the national political pundit class, which is probably exactly what he was hoping for.

Tonight the former Montana governor is scheduled to address the liberal grassroots group Progress Iowa. Follow @JennerJJacobs on Twitter for updates from that speech.