Montana's Gov. Schweitzer creates buzz his own way

Associated Press Modified: October 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm •  Published: October 15, 2012
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He says neither fits.

"I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I'm not senile enough to be in the Senate," sums up Schweitzer, adding he prefers to be in charge than pay homage to congressional seniority rules.

Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling has included Schweitzer in several early 2016 takes in presidential primary states, where the governor generally finishes toward the back of the pack.

It's clear Schweitzer is considering a run, though he quickly discusses things that could get in the way.

"If Hillary runs, she walks away with the nomination and then beats whichever Republican," Schweitzer said of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "It's lights out."

Montana Republicans beaten many times by Schweitzer don't think his "rural cowboy" formula of appealing to voters on guns and coal will play out of state.

"He has built his career in Montana on sounding like a Republican when he wants to. The Democratic presidential primary electorate in is not interested in that message," said Bowen Greenwood, the state Republican Party executive director.

On the road — including stops this year in early primary states — Schweitzer uses his high-energy speaking style to rouse audiences against the Afghan war and to tout energy independence.

Humor columnist Dave Barry called Schweitzer "a wild man" after Schweitzer wowed him with a graphic lesson on cattle castration at the Democratic National Convention. Barry wrote after the bar-side encounter that "if we don't elect this man, at bare minimum, president of the United States, we are even stupider than I think we are."

University of Montana political scientist James Lopach said the governor could be tapped for an Obama administration post if the politics of a second term require a centrist on energy or agriculture issues. The potential for a longshot run at president in 2016 remains.

"He is kind of bigger than life, the media like that, and he might be able to get a lot of early media exposure," Lopach said.

On the tour of his ranch, a reporter had to gun a four-wheeler to keep up with the governor.

The ponds are stocked with trout Schweitzer bought from a former Constitution Party legislator who was rarely a friend to the administration. Schweitzer kicks up Native American arrowheads next to a stream.

He tells the story of how he bought his wife a pistol so she wouldn't be afraid to use the outhouse at night because of wolves and bears. And he loves a laugh, suggesting a reporter urinate on an electric fence to see if it was powered up.

Does that really electrocute? his visitor asked.

"What do you think?" Schweitzer said with a big laugh.