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Guard Debate Fuels Talk of Presidential Bid

When the nation’s governors gathered at the White House in February, Schweitzer likened the president’s pitch, which emphasized Social Security over Medicaid, to a livestock auction that fails to tempt buyers. The headline in the next day’s Los Angeles Times read: “Montana Governor Isn’t Cowed by Bush.”

The governor’s populist touch also on display last year when he brought hunters and fishermen into his camp by exploiting GOP vulnerabilities on field and stream access. On the same day that President Bush was trouncing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 20 points in Montana, Schweitzer managed a 4-point win.

Schweitzer counts prescription drug subsidies for seniors, purchasing pools to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses and a college scholarship program among his first-year achievements.

Schweitzer’s biggest disappointment was not getting an ethics overhaul through the state Legislature. He is now threatening to place his lobbying reforms on the November 2006 ballot.

Steve McMahon, an adviser to the Democratic National Committee, thinks presidential campaign history has demonstrated “repeatedly” that there are “a lot of advantages to having served as governor.” But McMahon, who advised former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s (D) 2004 campaign, is quick to add a word of caution: “The disadvantage to any governor from any small state is always the same: Can he put together the money, the organization and the political support to compete with Washington-based candidates who have much of that in place already?”

McMahon thinks the “most plausible Democratic governor scenario” in 2008 is Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), the cellphone magnate.

Another potential problem for Schweitzer would be time on the ground in the states that host the early contests. Warner will be out of office starting in 2006. Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), another Democrat hoping to upend the Clinton train, is already out of office.

But in a party with a history of nominating heretofore obscure governors, nobody is writing Schweitzer off just yet.

“It’s a huge leap to go from being the governor of Montana to a presidential campaign in a couple of years,” Lehane said. “On the other hand, the guy seems to be a huge talent. He could be the Jimmy Carter of 2008.”

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