By BOB ANEZ/AP Political Writer
HELENA - The 2004 governor's race is as much about resumes as it is about issues.
Republican Bob Brown brags about his three decades of government service offering a proven track record of achievement. He considers Democrat Brian Schweitzer an outsider lacking the experience necessary to be an effective leader.
''He would provide leadership, but so would I,'' Brown said. ''Except I would provide new, experienced leadership ... with a background, an understanding of how to get things done.''
Schweitzer boasts of his background as a business owner unfettered by partisan bonds. He brands Brown the kind of career politician unwilling to shake up state government and unable to make a difference.
''All it takes is a governor with some business experience,'' he touts in one TV ad.
Brown calls himself a workhorse and Schweitzer a show-horse.
''It's a pretty clear contest between a flamboyant showman with a gift for finding the political hot buttons and a public servant who's been involved positively, constructively and effectively in our state for many years, and has a record to prove it,'' Brown said.
Schweitzer sees Brown as an entrenched bureaucratic, part of a GOP machine in power too long.
''He is a product of a system,'' Schweitzer said. ''He is a candidate for governor because he has been in government for 30 years. I come from a different direction. I'm not beholding to any political party or power-brokers.''
Despite those differing views of their own credentials and opposing stands on some issues, the two men share a common bond. They live outside of Whitefish, barely two miles apart.
Schweitzer, 49, is a farmer-rancher who earned his political stripes in 2000 when he ran a close U.S. Senate race against Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. He drew national attention to the high price of prescription drugs by taking busloads of elderly residents to Canada for cut-rate medicine.
Brown, 56, is a former high school teacher who spent 26 years in the Legislature before retiring in 1996 because of term limits. He was a lobbyist for four years before being elected secretary of state in 2000.
Both men crow about their running mates.
Brown tapped Dave Lewis, a GOP representative from Helena and former budget director for four governors, including two Democrats.
Schweitzer's choice of Republican Sen. John Bohlinger of Billings for lieutenant governor marked the first time the state has had a mixed-party gubernatorial ticket. Schweitzer said his selection shows his desire to bridge the partisan divide. To Brown, it's an electoral gimmick.
The race has the makings of a down-to-the-wire finish. A late-September poll by Lee Newspapers of Montana showed Schweitzer with only a slight lead of 45 percent to 41 percent.
A poll by Montana State University-Billings conducted about two weeks later showed Schweitzer leading by a margin of 43 percent to 28 percent, with 27 percent undecided.
A Schweitzer win would return a Democrat to the governor's chair for the first time since 1988.
Libertarian Stan Jones of Bozeman and Green Party candidate Robert Kelleher of Butte also are in the race, but have done little campaigning or fund-raising. Jones, 65, was gubernatorial candidate in 2000 and ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002. Kelleher, 81, is a perennial candidate, a veteran of 12 unsuccessful campaigns over the last 40 years.
Schweitzer has made a point of emphasizing his decision not to accept any contributions from political action committees. Still, he has outraised Brown. By mid-October, Schweitzer had total contributions of $1.35 million and Brown had $1.02 million.
Improving Montana's economy has been the mantra for both campaigns.
Schweitzer calls his plan ''Grow Montana.'' Brown chose ''Advance Montana.''
Schweitzer wants incentives to spark development of ethanol plants and hydrogen power projects, a special office to attract business investment money to the state and a tax on ''big-box'' stores like Wal-Mart
Brown ridiculed Schweitzer's ideas as ''wish-upon-a-star'' policies, touting his own plan that features increased natural resource development and diverting $15 million of annual coal tax trust fund deposits for financing public works projects.
Brown also proposed a limit on government spending growth, another statewide sales tax vote and a $20 million increase for schools.
Brown stepped out on a political limb in promising the coal tax diversion alone would create more than 13,000 jobs during his first four-year term.
The candidates each have offered health care proposals that focused on expanding insurance coverage for poor children, and both appealed to sportsmen by professing support for gun rights, access to more public and private lands, and improving fisheries.
Schweitzer decried government waste and promised a statewide audit to sniff out bad spending. He advocated tougher ethics laws for former government officials.
Although the campaign has been waged mostly on issues, a mini-controversy arose in midsummer over Schweitzer's purchase of two vehicles in Idaho last year. Brown used ''autogate'' to accuse Schweitzer of not caring enough about Montana's economy to buy at home; Schweitzer said he did what most shoppers do and simply went where he got the best deal.
Another dispute came in early October when Brown released his income tax returns and challenged Schweitzer to do the same. Schweitzer refused, saying such information is private and personal.
The Republican Governors' Association seized on the issue, airing ads accusing Schweitzer of trying hide something in his past.