Brian Schweitzer: 'Interested' in Taking on Hillary in 2016

Monday, 16 Dec 2013 03:00 PM

By Melanie Batley

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Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said he is "interested" in running for president in 2016 as a challenger to presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, arguing he would be the only standard-bearer for "progressives."

The 58-year-old Democrat, who in July announced to his party's dismay that he would not run to succeed longtime Sen. Max Baucus, defines himself as a Washington outsider, The Weekly Standard reports.

"I told [the Associated Press] … that I wasn't goofy enough to be in the House of Representatives nor senile enough to be in the Senate," he said, adding he won't spend more than 72 hours at a time in the nation's capital.

Of a 2016 presidential bid he said, "I didn't say I wouldn't, but I didn't say I was. But it's something I'm interested in," Schweitzer told the Standard.

He has scheduled a Dec. 18 speaking engagement to Progress Iowa, a liberal grass-roots group. During a recent appearance on MSNBC he took some shots at Clinton and said one item on his "bucket list" is to visit every county in Iowa.

"The question that we have is, will it be the Hillary that leads the progressives? Or is it the Hillary that says, 'I'm already going to win the Democratic nomination, and so I can shift hard right on Day 1.' We can't afford any more hard right. 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," he said.

Strategists from both parties say Schweitzer has a compelling brand that could motivate the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, while his populist appeal has won him the support of GOP voters. In 2004, for example, he managed to get elected as Montana's first Democratic governor since 1989 even though George W. Bush solidly won the state in his presidential campaign.

Montana's GOP state Senate majority leader, Jeff Essman, told the Standard, "I do think the state has a strong populist steak that has grown stronger as party identification has grown weaker. Brian Schweitzer did very well in capitalizing on that streak."

During his two terms from 2005 to 2013, he was consistently one of the most popular governors in the country, with an approval rating of 54 percent near the end of his second term, according to the Standard.

"I would be surprised if he looks at the space and doesn't try to get in," Nathan Daschle, former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, who has worked closely with Schweitzer, told the Standard. He added that Schweitzer is "one of the most instinctively political people" he knows.

"There aren't many people who can fire up progressives and get an 'A' rating from the NRA," he said.

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