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POLITICS: PennAve

Brian Schweitzer for president? Former governor's trip to Iowa met with skepticism from Democrats

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Democratic Party,MSNBC,Iowa,Montana,2016 Elections,PennAve,Rebecca Berg

It will be a month until former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer makes his first foray of the year into Iowa, where the first votes in the 2016 presidential election will be cast, but he's hinting that he's already planning his return trip.

"I would just say, there are around 100 counties in Iowa, and on my bucket list is to try to make it to all the counties of Iowa someday," Schweitzer, the latest Democrat to test the waters for a presidential run, told MSNBC.

Schweitzer will be in Iowa on Dec. 18 to headline Progress Iowa's holiday party, a trip sure to stoke speculation that he may make a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

But most of that speculation has been driven solely by Schweitzer, who has name-dropped early primary states at every opportunity, such as when he told Real Clear Politics earlier this year, "I still hold the people of Iowa and New Hampshire in high regard."

Indeed, Schweitzer has displayed a transparent interest in becoming a figure with national appeal within the Democratic Party. He appeared onstage as a featured speaker during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last year, and he is a familiar face on cable news networks.

Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price said Iowans' familiarity with Schweitzer is low, although he is viewed positively by the small segment of people who do know who he is.

What's still not clear is whether Schweitzer is serious about Iowa.

“If he’s seriously considering a run, this is what he should be doing,” Price said of the Progress Iowa event. “I think we’ll know more about his intentions after this trip.”

The notion that Schweitzer could launch a serious bid for the presidency is being dismissed by many Democrats, who said the bid would be even outlandish. One national Democratic strategist said Schweitzer would have "as good a chance at becoming president as (embattled Toronto Mayor) Rob Ford."

"Brian Schweitzer is never going to be president of the United States and, much like (former Massachusetts Sen.) Scott Brown, is addicted to the free publicity that comes with traveling to Iowa," the strategist said.

Schweitzer's low name recognition nationwide suggests he's not in a position for a serious presidential run. A September survey by Public Policy Polling found Schweitzer with 1 percent support when stacked against prominent Democrats in New Hampshire, an early primary state.

The former governor's record is also rife with potential personal and professional land mines, some of which were dredged up in opposition research when he was talked about a possible replacement for retiring Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. That research factored heavily into Schweitzer’s abrupt decision earlier this year not to launch a Senate bid, Democrats familiar with his decision confirmed at the time, although Schweitzer publicly said he had no interest in running for the Senate seat.

The obstacles Schweitzer faced to mounting a Senate bid have made his hints at running for president even more dubious within the party — and have led to speculation that his remarks about early primary states are part of a bid not for the presidency, but for publicity.

“Every politician loves attention, but he loves attention to a different degree,” said one national Democrat familiar with Montana politics. “That’s what I think this little Iowa stunt is: just getting more attention to get a TV contract, because I don’t think he could run for president.”

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Rebecca Berg

Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner