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June 13, 2008

Brian Schweitzer's Big Problem

posted by Josh Goodman

Schweitzer_200web Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is an intriguing running mate possibility for Barack Obama, except for one big problem.

Did Schweitzer receive suspiciously favorable mortgages?


Has he lobbied for an unsavory foreign government?

Certainly not.

Did he once make some comment, which, if twisted and presented out of context, would be embarrassing?

Probably, but that's beside the point.

Schweitzer's problem is that he's up for reelection this year. The Montana Secretary of State's Office tells me that Montana law forbids a candidate from running for two offices at once. So, Schweitzer can't hedge his bets, as Lyndon Johnson, Lloyd Bentsen and Joe Lieberman have done before him. Earlier this month, Schweitzer won the Democratic nomination for governor.

If Schweitzer asks out of the gubernatorial race, the Democrats can replace him on the ballot up to 75 days before the election. If Obama picked Schweitzer a couple of weeks before the Democratic National Convention, that would be an option.

The problem, however, is that taking that step would probably cause the Republican nominee, Roy Brown, to win the gubernatorial race. Nate Silver explains:

Another argument against Schweitzer, the one I have long thought most persuasive, is that while most have tended to think Montana is undergoing a blue revolution, the Democrats in Montana have a much thinner bench than most realize and his departure to run on a national ticket would hurt Montana Dems badly. Take Schweitzer out of the governor's mansion, his Lieutenant Governor is a Republican. There's no obvious replacement. If Schweitzer chooses to accept a VP offer, he knows he's going to leave a mess and some unhappy allies who are negatively affected.

Now, you might wonder whether the Montana governorship is really so important as to affect Obama's choice. Schweitzer is, after all, one of the few current governors who has forged a national profile. He's done that with the help of his dog, his bolo tie and his personality. As a running mate, he'd be a skilled communicator and true Washington outsider (he's never served in elected office anywhere within 1,800 miles of Washington, D.C.), with Western cred.

But Obama would have to know that creating turmoil in a state would result in some unfavorable press. And Schweitzer might turn down Obama's offer, realizing that accepting it would burn bridges back home. After all, the same traits that make him an attractive vice presidential candidate also make him someone with a lot to lose by ending his gubernatorial service prematurely.

Anyone who has served less than four years as governor of a small state (in terms of population) was always going to be a long shot. Given that his reelection bid is a complicating factor, the odds against Schweitzer are even longer.

Previously in my vice-presidential series:

-Kathleen Sebelius

-Haley Barbour

-Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin

-Bill Richardson

-Tim Kaine and Ted Strickland

-Tim Pawlenty

-28 governors who won't be running mates



Thanks for this. I've been wondering what the contingency plan would have to be in Montana. I'm not from there, and I don't know the state well. Any thoughts on who the Dems could pick? And who would make the deicision? I imagine Schweitzer would play a big role, but I'm curious to know how the state party would approve/certify this new nominee.


One more thought — for a small state with not much tradition of prominent national politicians, I would imagine that Montana voters would be much more energized by an Obama-Schweitzer ticket. He's already got an 80 percent approval rating in the state, and last week Rasmussen showed a 31 percent polling edge in the governor's race. I would think any replacement in the gov's race, no matter how much lower her/his profile might be, would have a very decent chance of winning.

With Democratic representation running even in Montana's house and senate, I'm not entirely sure it's fair to assume this is a Republican state anymore. Sure, the Democrats there are much more moderate than, say, those of California or the Northeast, and I would imagine that some of the state's politicians are Democrats in name only (as often happens in one-party states, which Montana was until recently). What I'm saying is that if Schweitzer left the gubernatorial race, I think it would more of a tossup than a slam dunk for Roy Brown.

Of course, Schweitzer's biggest worry would be joining the national ticket and then seeing it lose. Obama can't seem to get more than a slight edge over his bumbling opponent's incompetent operation. He would go from a slam dunk reelection to unemployment. So I can see why he wouldn't be wild about the idea. But like a lot of veep contenders have said — they don't want the job, but if asked, they would run. I suspect Schweitzer would see the wisdom of that.

In a March, 2007 interview with Charlie Rose he said his greatest aspiration would be to make America energy-independent and then pass on the new technologies to other nations. How, then, could he pass up the opportunity were Obama to drop it in his lap?

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