Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer may very well be a candidate for President in 2016. His first step will be winning the Democratic nomination.
Does he have chance?
With name identification below ten percent outside of Montana he will have to considerably raise his profile on the national level. The fact that he provides such a stark contrast to Senator Hillary Clinton and her campaign is likely to raise his profile soon after he enters the race.
Also, what part of the Democratic primary constituency does he appeal to? The natural answer is the anti-Hillary faction. This consists of those with Clinton-Fatigue, populists, some white men (a fading block of the Democratic Party), and some labor unions.
The Democratic primary voters he will repel may be a larger issue. Environmentalists will oppose his strong support for the use of fracking to produce natural gas and oil, as well as, his general support for increased domestic energy production. Gun safety advocates will dislike his embrace of firearms. Strong supporters of gay rights will likely dislike his claims to “gaydar” and projection of who is gay or simply effeminate. In short, most liberals, the lion’s share of the Democratic primary voters, will hate him.
However, with his embrace of single payer healthcare, he is to the left of Senator Clinton on what otherwise might be a signature issue for her. This will appeal to more populist leaning elements of the party who tend to be from more rural areas and supportive of labor issues.
Jerry Brown tried to build this collation in 1992, embracing labor unions and scorning the free-trade, pro-NAFTA sophisticates of the Bill Clinton team. However, as the former Governor of California (and a political scion) with an Ivy League pedigree, it was tough for him to out blue-collar the former Governor of Arkansas, raised by a single mother.
Schweitzer, a true son of the West, will have no similar encumbrances.
But, how big is this possible coalition, and how likely are unions to embrace a national newcomer? As Brown demonstrated in 1992, unions will back challengers with long odds if there is clear support for their core issues: jobs, protectionist trade policies, favorable organizing rules, and fiscal policy geared towards the middle/working class.
Assuming the race can be portrayed as a one on one race against Senator Hillary Clinton, the atmospheric differences will be dramatic. The bolo-tie wearing gregarious Governor Schweitzer will be swinging for the fences and playing to win with a long-shot’s lack of caution. This will look quite different from the tightly scripted, regimentally disciplined, yet multi-headed Clinton campaign, playing not to lose.
As the U.S. soccer team recently learned, sometimes playing not to lose can itself be a losing strategy.