MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who used libertarian politics and a bipartisan ticket to bust through years of Republican dominance in the state, is now enjoying the spotlight of the Democratic Party's biggest stage. The governor has created quite a buzz at the Democratic National Convention in Denver with his bolo tie, jeans and cowboy boots along with a riproaring speech Tuesday night that brought a crowd of thousands to its feet. In his speech, the governor touted the Democrats' energy plan, while criticizing Republican John McCain as beholden to big oil companies. "We simply can't drill our way to energy independence," he said in a line that was replayed on the cable news networks. "If you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, even the ones he doesn't know he has ... that single proposition is a dry well." Although hobnobbing with the Democratic leadership, Schweitzer says his independent roots haven't changed. The Tuesday night speech, he says, was full of the stuff he's been talking about in Montana for four years. Schweitzer said Wednesday that it was "silly" that people were saying he had become an instant Democratic Party celebrity. “Frankly, what I did last night is something I have done a fair bit of in Montana," he said. "It's just there were a fair bit of people there to see it." There were some key differences, including the use of prepared remarks a rarity for a governor who likes to shoot from the hip. "I didn't stay on the script that much," he said. "It's not really my style to be reading from the script." Whatever he did worked. Pundits lauded the speech, going so far as to compare it to Barack Obama's speech four years ago that thrust the littleknown U. S. Senate candidate from Illinois onto the national political stage. "Now do you guys see why I champion Schweitzer so much?" Blogger Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos Web site wrote after the governor's speech. "The man will be president one day. Heck, sign me up right now For his 2016 effort." Obama liked it, too. "He was getting folks fired up," Obama said while campaigning in Billings on Wednesday. "Some people called me after that and said, 'Is everybody in Montana like Schweitzer?' I said, 'No he's unique, even for Montana he's a pretty unique guy.' But he just did an unbelievable job." Schweitzer, who keeps a rifle in his office, has always known what makes a good show. Before becoming governor, he nearly toppled a sitting U.S. senator with such theatrics as dumping $47,000 in cash onto a table in the Capitol rotunda to illustrate his opponent's contributions from big tobacco. He also got headlines for driving busloads of seniors to Canada for cheap prescription drugs. Ever since, state Republicans have tried with little luck to dismiss him as a "show horse." And now he is getting more attention. "Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer did the equivalent of summiting Everest for the first time yesterday, getting the crowd to roar while discussing renewable energy," Jimmy Orr wrote while blogging for The Christian Science Monitor. Over the years, Schweitzer has consistently dismissed politics in Washington, D.C., saying he can't stand the "stench." And while he was fighting to be the first Democratic governor in Montana in 16 years, he kept a fair distance from national party leaders and their ideas. Now he is forcefully backing Obama and says the candidate can become the rare Democrat to carry Montana in the presidential election. He points to Obama's five visits to the state, including one on Wednesday, a full-time campaign staff of 40 in the state and a long roster of volunteers. "It's the most sophisticated, organized campaign in the history of presidential politics in Montana," Schweitzer said. But is Schweitzer getting too cozy to the national Democratic politics he once spurned? Does a speech filled with hits on Republican John McCain put a tarnish on the bipartisanship that he trumpets back home? "In a state where overt partisanship is frowned upon, that speech is probably not going to go over well for those Montanans that saw it," said Montana GOP Chairman Erik Iverson, who said he was surprised by Schweitzer's tone. For his part, Schweitzer said he was not attacking McCain, but rather pointing out why the Republican has the wrong energy plan. "There's a whole lot of people who are Republicans around America that agree with me," Schweitzer said. "They are going to be shocked when they find their standard-bearer does not agree with them." And his support of Obama has more to do with ideas and less about politics, Schweitzer said. That's why he is trumpeting Obama as the best choice to produce domestic energy heavy on alternative sources like wind and solar. "That is not even close to being partisan," Schweitzer said. "That is the future of Montana, that is the future of this country." Meanwhile, Schweitzer is relishing in all the attention. "I enjoyed it," Schweitzer said. "Did it show?" ___ Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings contributed to this report.