Montana's Gov. Schweitzer Shines At Convention

Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, brought the crowd at the Pepsi Center to its feet with a rousing speech at the Democratic Convention on Tuesday. Schweitzer talks about his moment in the spotlight and the challenges of turning Montana into a blue state before November.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Every political convention seems to have a breakout speaker who steals the show. In 2004 it was this guy:

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Nominee): There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America, an Asian America; there's the United States of America.

LYDEN: You might have heard of him, Barack Obama. But this year the Democrats' surprise star wore a bolo tie.

Mr. BRIAN SCHWEITZER (Governor, Montana): Stand up, Colorado, stand up. Florida, stand up. Michigan, stand up. Pennsylvania, stand up.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Get up or you're (unintelligible) in the cheap seats, stand up.

LYDEN: That's Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana. He brought the convention to its feet as the opening act for Hillary Clinton. We called him yesterday when he was still on the streets of Denver. But just as we got him on the line, someone walked by, a certain presidential candidate turned CNN commentator.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Oh, Pat Buchanan, I better say hi to him. Brian Schweitzer, nice to meet you.

Mr. PAT BUCHANAN (CNN Commentator): Well, (unintelligible).

Mr. SCHWEITZER: My mother voted for you, by the way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWEITZER: All right. I just saw Pat Buchanan.

LYDEN: A new friend from the convention, Governor Schweitzer, Pat Buchanan?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Oh, I don't know. You know, I'm friends with everybody. I get along with everybody.

LYDEN: Once we got settled in, I asked the man who gets along with everybody about his speech. It was billed as a discussion of energy policy. Not a topic that usually gets crowds up clapping and chanting, and I wondered, is this guy the next Barack Obama?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: No, I don't know about that. Heck, that was just kind of a normal Tuesday night in Montana. That's kind of the way we do political events in Montana. We just try to get people excited. Now, I'm always excited about alternative energy. American energy produced in America, designed by American engineers and created by American workers.

And we were just talking about that, and I was excited about it, they seemed to get excited about it and I just told them, look, we're not going to win this election by you sitting on your hind end. You got to stand up.

LYDEN: Throughout the years Montana's been a seriously Republican state. George W. Bush had blowout wins there the last two elections. Barack Obama has made Montana a serious campaign stop. He was in Billings just before he came to the convention; he's been there a number of times. Do you really think that Democrats can carry the state in November?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, a Democrat hasn't gotten to 50 percent running for president in Montana since LBJ. The day I was elected, John Kerry got 38.5 percent. Against that backdrop, we're one of the few states that has a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators. So, Montanans are ticket splitters, and Barack Obama's been to Montana five times.

That is already five times more than any presidential candidate has been to Montana in the last three cycles. And after sizing him up, after looking him over, in Montana he is tied with John McCain at 45. It's going to be close, but being close in Montana means that McCain's in trouble in the rest of the country.

LYDEN: There's some issues where you and most Montanans would disagree with a lot of Democrats. For example, you told a BBC reporter in June that gun control in Montana is hitting what you're shooting at. So, how do you sell Montanans on a party that they may suspect doesn't reflect some of their core beliefs?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Oh, well, I've got an A rating with the NRA and of course the NRA hasn't given an A rating to either Barack Obama or John McCain. They have given an A rating to Bob Barr. So, anyone in Montana or elsewhere that are interested as a single issue of guns, they're probably going to vote for Bob Barr, the Libertarian.

LYDEN: I'd like to ask you about John McCain's choice for vice president, Sarah Palin, a fellow governor from what - if you're sitting on the East Coast - seem like the far-flung western states. She seems like she would make the GOP ticket more appealing in your part of the world. What do you think?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, I know Sarah. She's a friend of mine; we serve together. There will be those who'd say, well, John McCain needed to pick someone that would assure America that there would be somebody prepared to lead if something should happen to the president. I think that's the most important thing you do when you choose a vice president.

That is their Constitutional requirement beyond anything else. And there may be those who say that even though Sarah's a wonderful woman, she hasn't had the kind of experience that you would expect for someone who will be leader of the free world.

LYDEN: If Barack Obama is elected president, would you like to be energy secretary?

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Well, you know, I've got to be honest with you, I'm not a very good typer. I don't think I could be anybody's secretary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Brian Schweitzer is governor of Montana and Democratic man of the moment. Thanks for joining us, Governor.

Mr. SCHWEITZER: Thank you very much.

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