Republicans Say Focus on Schweitzer

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Upsets in congressional races last week likely mean political attention will turn to the governor’s race, and Republicans hope the higher profile will help them beat a well-known incumbent.

Last week’s surprising election left Republicans with a Senate candidate highly unlikely to unseat Sen. Max Baucus, while the Democrats have a candidate who vows not to raise any money in his race against U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Rank-and-file Republicans won’t be lining up behind Bob Kelleher — a champion of gun control and increased welfare — with money or volunteer support, party officials said. And since Rehberg is safe, it will help the party with a main goal of beating Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Republicans say Roy Brown, as the challenger hoping to knock off Schweitzer, will benefit from the extra attention on the race.

“It was good news for Roy, because he becomes front and center in the Republican mind-set,” said Erik Iverson, Montana Republican Party chairman.

James Lopach, chair of University of Montana’s political science department, agrees that the governor’s race will get more attention without high-profile congressional races.

“You have a very well known incumbent and a competent, fairly well known challenger,” he said.

Still, Brown faces an uphill battle taking on a popular incumbent, Lopach said.

“The odds are not in his favor. But it is possible,” he said.

Democrats don’t believe the upsets changed their plans any. The party still thinks Driscoll can beat Rehberg, despite the former state lawmaker’s pledge not to raise any money — because it pollutes politics — or disrupt his summer vacation plans.

Driscoll is asking supporters to think of creative ideas, like recycling yard signs or making their own campaign T-shirts, to run without a budget.

Party spokesman Kevin O’Brien said it is possible that the weak congressional races will lead Democratic donors to route more money to candidates in other statewide races such as attorney general, superintendent of public instruction and state auditor.

Brown’s campaign says it expects more resources will be available for them.

“This is the one race that is at the top of the ticket that can still be competitive,” said Brown campaign manager Chris Wilcox. “I think it helps us at fundraising. I think it helps at every level, down to volunteers going to door to door. When you are not splitting up resources as much, it helps us a lot.”

The party, Iverson said, is focused on helping Brown beat Schweitzer, gaining control of the Legislature and helping Republicans running in the other statewide seats.

They will now only have to keep an eye on Rehberg’s race, and the U.S. Senate race.

“The wallets of Republican contributors are going to be freed up more for Roy Brown,” Iverson said.

Schweitzer’s campaign says its expectations remain the same.

“We always expected a tough race. And we are prepared for anything they throw our way,” said spokesman Harper Lawson.