HELENA – Once again, the rumors are percolating that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is eyeing a race for president in 2016.
Once again, Schweitzer has brushed the speculation aside, but as always left the door slightly ajar.
Earlier this month, Schweitzer was interviewed by a reporter for Real Clear Politics for a story that was headlined: “Brian Schweitzer Mulling 2016 Presidential Bid.” The writer said Schweitzer indicated “he may launch a White House bid, even if front-runner Hillary Clinton also enters the race.”
Schweitzer was quoted saying he still holds the people of Iowa and New Hampshire “in high regard.” Those states, of course, have the nation’s first presidential caucus and primary, respectively.
In a Lee Newspapers State Bureau interview last week, Schweitzer didn’t sound like someone gearing up to run for president in 2016, but then again, he didn’t rule it out.
“As I’ve said before, I’m still a citizen of the United States, and I still qualify because I’m the correct age,” he said.
Schweitzer is 58; the minimum age to file for president is 35.
“That being said,” Schweitzer said, “if you’d be sitting where I am, looking out over Georgetown Lake, which is completely calm and with a perfect reflection of the snow-capped Pintler peaks, you’d be asking, ‘Has someone got a better life than that?’ ”
Then Schweitzer talked about how for 20 of the last 25 years, the president has either been a Bush or a Clinton, with Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton likely to run in 2016.
Schweitzer said young people will be speculating about whether this is what America has come to – some kind of royalty in leadership.
The Democratic nomination will be Hillary Clinton’s to lose, Schweitzer said, with vice president Joe Biden being next in line if she doesn’t run.
“If Hillary’s not in the race, there’s going to be a bevy of female leaders who are going to step up in that role,” Schweitzer said, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Others who may jump in if Clinton doesn’t, Schweitzer said, are his friend Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Schweitzer already spurned a major draft effort to get him to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
In declining to run for the Senate in mid-July, Schweitzer cited his desire to continue to live at his home on Georgetown Lake, but also his disdain for Congress as a do-nothing branch of government. He has said repeatedly he is a CEO personality, someone who likes being in charge and getting things done.
Asked again directly if he is running for president, Schweitzer said, “No. I’ve got a pretty full plate right now.”
After helping lead a hostile takeover of Stillwater Mining Co. earlier this year, Schweitzer is now chairman of the board of the company.
“I’m going to be involved in some of this national television media stuff,” he said.
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Schweitzer will be one of the rotating hosts of CNN’s “Crossfire” show, appearing four times in the next month.
“It gives me an opportunity to be in the body politic and gives me a voice in a way that would be superior to a freshman member of Congress or, for that matter, a long-shot (presidential) candidate in Iowa,” he said. “I don’t aspire to be on Fox or MSNBC. They’re hair on fire. You’re always wrong. You’re always right. At CNN, they want to have a longer form discussion so it’s not just talking points. Bring in political and business leaders and you get to drill down.”
He will host Crossfire Monday at 4:30 p.m. Montana time.
Political analysts in Montana and Washington, D.C., continue to watch Schweitzer with interest.
“It’s hard to know what goes on in Brian Schweitzer’s mind,” said David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University. “I certainly see in him temperamentally as someone who would be interested in running for higher office, particularly the presidency. I think he is going to get bored doing other things.”
By stepping up his appearances on “Crossfire,” Schweitzer would immediately be “dipping in a bigger pool,” Parker said.
Schweitzer faces a fundamental problem if he runs for president because Montana is “off the beaten path financially,” the MSU political scientist said.
“He’s got to tap into large donor networks that other candidates can already do, like the governors of Maryland and New York and Hillary Clinton,” Parker said.
Running for president in 2016 might be difficult for Schweitzer, but making a run in 2020 might be more reasonable, he said.
But if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run for president in 2016, that opens the door for dark-horse candidates like Schweitzer, he said.
“In my opinion, he’s too intellectually engaged and too interested in certain policy areas that he would sit on a mountain and leave it all behind,” Parker said. “He’s not going quietly into the night.”
Parker said he can’t imagine Schweitzer wanting to be a vice presidential candidate and play “second fiddle.” What’s more, having Schweitzer as a running mate could be risky because he is “unfiltered,” he said.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a leading political website based at the University of Virginia, said he’s always seen Schweitzer as “kind of an interesting wildcard presidential candidate. He’s on our list, but right on the bottom.”
He questioned whether Schweitzer’s pro-gun and pro-coal positions would play that well with Democratic primary voters.
“I really don’t think he’s what the party is clamoring for,” Kondik said. “I think they want to nominate a woman.”
Kondik said Schweitzer as a Westerner and a moderate with a good profile would be an interesting vice presidential candidate, but said that’s unlikely because “he wants to run his own show.”
If Schweitzer decides to run for president, he would be a credible candidate, Kondik said, although he’s not likely to win.
“I don’t think there would be anything in the field quite like him,” the analyst said, adding: “I think Schweitzer would certainly make the race more interesting to we hacks that cover it.”