By BOB ANEZ AP Political Writer
HELENA - The six major candidates for governor proved themselves willing to step out on some political limbs in their statehouse bids this year.
Among Republicans, Bob Brown promised he will create 13,000 new jobs, Tom Keating recommended abolishing two major environmental laws, Ken Miller called for removing judges making unpopular decisions, and Pat Davison set his sights on the chief executive's job despite having little political experience.
Democrat Brian Schweitzer broke tradition by tapping a Republican as his running mate and John Vincent waited until almost the last minute to launch a campaign against the heavily financed Schweitzer.
The contenders are vying to succeed Republican Judy Martz, who decided last August not to seek a second four-year term. Her first two years were laced with problems and left her with little support among voters, but she cited a desire to spend more time with family as the reason for not running again.
The last independent poll, taken in December, showed a general election toss-up between Schweitzer and Brown, but no surveys had measured the primary races through mid-May.
Schweitzer, 48, made his political mark in 2000 when he mounted a strong challenge to Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in the U.S. Senate.
He began running for governor before anyone else in early 2003 and had raised nearly $730,000 through February 2004, more than GOP front-runners Brown and Davison together.
Schweitzer, a Whitefish farmer, exudes confidence in his candidacy and his mixed-party ticket with John Bohlinger, a moderate Republican senator from Billings.
''We hear from the people that it's a breath of fresh air,'' he said. ''We will win this election, and the day after we will be uniquely qualified to bring Montana together, to end this polarization, this finger-pointing, this partisan gamesmanship.''
Schweitzer's vision of ethanol plants dotting Montana's rural landscape is a key piece of his economic development plan. But he also wants to make employee health insurance more affordable for small business owners and adapt higher education to produce graduates catering to specific needs of Montana businesses.
Vincent, 61, has touted his government credentials from 16 years as legislator, four years on the Bozeman City Commission and the past four years as Gallatin County commissioner.
He rapped Schweitzer for taking what he considers contradictory positions on issues such as a sales tax, branding Schweitzer as too wishy-washy to be trusted as governor.