The Dems’ Montana Maverick

Benjy Sarlin profiles Brian Schweitzer, the former governor preparing to run against Obama’s record in the next presidential primary:

Schweitzer’s scorn for Obama has led him to hatch a surprising plan. After turning down a run for Senate this year and settling into a new job as a mining executive, the ex-governor surprised observers by announcing his interest in a possible run for president in 2016. He’s since visited Iowa, the kickoff caucus state, to rail against Obama’s “corporatist” health care law and to criticize Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic frontrunner in 2016, for voting to authorize the Iraq war when she was a New York senator.

A Schweitzer presidential candidacy would be a long shot by any measure. He has no national profile and a heterodox political persona that’s served him well in rural, libertarian, and energy rich Montana but doesn’t necessarily sync with the average Democratic primary voter. Clinton, while still undeclared, is such an overwhelming favorite that donors-in-waiting are already competing for territory. But what Schweitzer does have is a message that’s unique in the likely Democratic field. The former governor is gambling that Democrats won’t just want an alternative to Clinton in 2016–they’ll want a complete and total rejection of the Obama presidency.

Ezra questions Schweitzer’s strategy:

More interesting than Schweitzer’s lack of praise for Obama are his extremely specific criticisms.

He loathes Obamacare and believes it should be replaced by a single-payer health-care system. He calls the NSA revelations “un-effing-believable.” He says the Obama administration “just haven’t been very good at running things.” It’s an outline of where one extremely savvy politician thinks the left might be unhappy with Obama — and, by extension, Hillary Clinton.

But Schweitzer didn’t become governor of right-leaning Montana by accident. He’s skeptical of gun control and likes to shoot at things in campaign ads. He’s a big believer in coal production and expanded oil drilling. He’s the sort of red-state Democrat that the party thought was key to its future in 2005 but whose political appeal has been diminished by the rise of Obama’s younger, more multicultural majority.

Bouie adds:

If Schweitzer is an unlikely choice for the Democratic nomination, it has less to do with his low national profile, and everything to do with his pronounced Obama-skepticism. Black voters have their concerns with the Obama administration, but the president is held in high esteem. Which is to say that, if you’re going to distance yourself from the administration, you have to do so without without attacking Obama as a figure. Otherwise, you’ve alienated African Americans and crippled your bid for the nomination.

Kilgore sees Schweitzer alienating the entire party:

At a time when Democrats are frantically trying to hold onto control of the Senate, Schweitzer talked about running for Max Baucus’ seat and then bailed. Next thing you knew, he was talking about running for president. Most Democratic activists think they need a viable Senate candidate in Montana more than they need an openly anti-Obama presidential candidate. From that perspective, Schweitzer looks narcissistic, and that’s not a personality trait likely to ignite a crusade.

Maybe I’m just wrong. I met Schweitzer back when he was running for the Senate in 2000—before he had any national ideological profile at all—and thought he was an odd but intense man afire with self-regard. Some fans out West have long thought he had some personal magic along with the right positioning to win red states. If he keeps going to Iowa, we’ll soon know if that activist-rich state gives him traction—or a strong heave-ho.

Recent Dish on Schweitzer here