Not to be outdone by the all-new Montana Cowgirl blog, the normally comatose and politically tone-deaf Independent Record editorial staff has wisely allowed it’s able political reporter to get into the gossip game. Jay wrote up a short post about it earlier.
This weekend, Chuck Johnson penned a column about “rumors” that Brian Schweitzer wants to run against Max Baucus or John Tester for the US Senate. It’s an interesting and fun piece, although it should be noted that the piece doesn’t cite any source at all for the rumor. Nevertheless, the rumor has in fact existed for many months about a possible Schweitzer-Baucus showdown. I haven’t heard the Schweitzer-Tester rumor.
The source of the rumor is four-fold. First, there was supposedly a telephone poll last spring that was making the rounds, received by some Democrats, asking about Rehberg, Baucus and Schweitzer. Many versions have been related to me as to what the poll actually asked exactly. Some say that a primary match-up question was asked as between Baucus and Schweitzer. The second source of the rumor is that Schweitzer has only two years left on his term, meaning he’ll need a job. The third source is the friction seen in the press recently between Schweitzer and the federal delegation, regarding protection of the Flathead river and Glacier. The fourth source is the anecdote Chuck relates about Baucus being furious with Schweitzer for razzing up the pre-Obama crowd in Belgrade in 2008, about the merits of Universal Healthcare, and thus being a bee in the Baucus/Obama healthcare bonnet.
My take is that even if Schweitzer is interested in the Senate–and by all accounts, he is not, since he makes fun of the institution seven days a week–he would not be researching his chances against Max Baucus in a race four years from now. Politicians don’t poll that far ahead, ever.
As for Chuck’s anecdote about Baucus being pissed at Schweitzer for working up the crowd at the Obama event last summer by calling for universal healthcare, that story has been making the rounds for a while. Baucus gave a speech about the importance of compromise, etc., and then Schweitzer then razzed up the crowd by calling for a Canadian health system, and then Baucus supposedly got in his face and told him he was, by giving such a speech, destroying the entire health-care policy endeavor. UPDATE: A commenter found the speech on youtube! You can watch it here.
This issue will continue to separate Baucus and Schweitzer, and we will see where Tester comes down on it. Schweitzer sees political value in taking on drug companies and the health industry and in fact he began his career doing so by running bus trips to Canada to buy cheap drugs. Baucus is definitely much closer in his working relationships with the health industry. For example, Liz Fowler recently went from Insurance Company executive to Baucus staffer to White House staffer in charge of writing health care rules. But what I would like to note about Schweitzer’s populist health-care approach is that it doesn’t seem to have cost him any popularity. That should be a lesson to progressives and democrats that sometimes the most liberal position on an issue is the right position, and one that can be defended articulately, and not cost you votes, can can even gain you votes.
Overall, I think the rumors are nonsense. As to Tester, Schweitzer spent a fortune in political capital on Tester’s campaign, raising money, barnstorming across the state, and appearing in ads wiith Jag, his dog, talking about what a great Senator Tester would be. And Tester is a great Senator, and progressives love him, and he and Schweitzer seem to have a strong relationship. S o that part of the rumor has little basis. Nobody I know has ever even heard it. As for a Baucus-Schweitzer showdown, that’s far off but it is definitely buzzed around inside the beltway. Baucus has reason to fear Schweitzer because Schweitzer gets Democrats excited, and gets progressives excited too. However, my prediction is that by 2014, one of these two men will have moved on to become a judge, an ambassador, a cabinet officer, a CEO, a Congressman, or maybe even a presidential or vice-presidential nominee. I honestly can’t imagine Baucus and Schweitzer vying for a Senate seat in a primary. So while the rumor is fun, it is probably an empty one.