HELENA, Mont. – Gov. Brian Schweitzer (search) sits in his Capitol office, scanning a recent Roll Call article in which pundits float his name as a possible presidential contender. They say the "rancher-politician from Big Sky Country" might be the Democrats' "best shot to take back the White House." Schweitzer tosses the article aside. "These people are kooky," he says.
Schweitzer, in office barely 200 days, has drawn unusual attention for the new chief executive of a state usually on the sidelines when it comes to national politics.
His victory as a Democrat in a historically Republican stronghold helped bring him to the attention of Democratic Party leaders. Smarting from their losses in 2004, the Democrats have been looking to successful candidates in typically "red" states, hoping to find a winning strategy.
"He is no-nonsense. He understands fiscal concerns," said Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman. "He has a winning formula for Democrats. He is an example of how you win elections in the West."
Schweitzer had certain built-in advantages in 2004: He ran as a centrist against a weaker Republican candidate, and he followed a very unpopular outgoing GOP governor. But political observers also see a lot of charisma.
The 49-year-old governor speaks bluntly, ridicules special-interest influence, and likes blue jeans and bolo ties. His border collie Jag is often at his heels in the governor's office.
He recently compared President Bush's pitch for changing Social Security to a livestock auction selling bum beef, and he said this of the way the nation's capital works: "If I stay in Washington for more than 72 hours, I have to bathe myself in the same stuff I use when my dog gets into a fight with a skunk."
Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, recently referred to Schweitzer as a "blunt-speaking, gun-toting, scotch-swilling governor" — the last a reference to news photos of him downing a shot at the reopening of a landmark bar in Butte.
Schweitzer has vowed to veto tax increases, favors abortion rights and opposes gay marriage and gun control. He has been a leader in promoting lower prescription drug prices and supports ethanol production.
Craig Wilson, who heads the political science department at Montana State University-Billings and has watched Montana politics for 40 years, said the novice governor is not a serious national contender.
"He has an uncanny ability to attract media publicity through his statements," he said. "But I don't see that he's seeking higher office now. He's a small state governor from the West. I don't know where he would get money for a campaign with his strong criticism of special interests."
Schweitzer said he has done nothing to promote himself for any higher office and, at least for now, is not seeking one. "I'm not that smart and I ain't pretty, so I don't know what they're talking about," Schweitzer told The Associated Press.
Others suspect he is, in fact, seeking the limelight.
"You don't get on CNN three times just by being a Democratic governor in a Western state," said Karl Ohs, chairman of the Montana Republican Party and former lieutenant governor. "There has to be someone somewhere opening those doors."
But Schweitzer is quick with his own explanation for the attention he is getting: "Maybe it's because I'm kind of a straight-talker and tend to say it the way it is. A lot of politicians are scared of their own shadows so they parse their words."
Ohs acknowledged Schweitzer's way with words is bound to draw some attention outside Montana, but said that probably won't last.
"When you have a governor who's a loose cannon, who speaks his mind, it's entertaining for a while," Ohs said. "But it eventually wears off."