HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer coasts into his second term with a big re-election endorsement, only tarnished a bit by his party’s inability to seize control of the Legislature and carry the state for Barack Obama, observers say.
Schweitzer’s image as an up-and-coming Western star for the Democrats is likely to keep growing, despite a couple of election day disappointments for Democrats in his state.
Schweitzer beat his opponent, Republican Rep. Roy Brown, by a 2-1 margin despite thousands the GOP spent on attack ads. And a barrage of harsh editorials in September, critical of his speech where he hinted at tampering with an election, didn’t seem to faze voters.
Democrats also swept the highly prized five statewide offices. Along with governor, they won the races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and state school superintendent.
But Schweitzer and the Democrats fell short of delivering Montana for Barack Obama, who lost the state to John McCain after spending a lot of time and money here. And Republicans took control of the state Senate despite a concerted effort by the Democrats, who touted Schweitzer’s energy and fiscal policies.
“The most stinging loss for the governor might be these losses in the Legislature. That could cause problems for him,” said MSU-Billings political scientist Craig Wilson.
Schweitzer resisted the notion that the legislative losses could be tied to him.
“I think the bottom line is that when you try to figure out legislative races, quit trying to figure it out. These are 150 separate races,” the governor said.
Wilson said Schweitzer’s own large margin of victory only gives him “a little bit of a bully pulpit.”
“I don’t think Republicans in the Senate are going to be intimidated by Schweitzer’s margin of victory,” Wilson said.
Sen. Jeff Essman, R-Billings, said many Republicans, whose party gained control of the Senate by a 27-23 margin, also had big Election Day victories. They owe those voters the obligation to pursue the initiatives they campaigned on, and don’t plan to be deferential to the governor’s agenda, Essmamn said.
“I don’t think it’s relevant, margins of victory, when you are talking about serious policy proposals,” Essman said. “I think everybody that crosses the finish line with a victory, the voters want them to pursue the policies that they projected.”
Schweitzer said he does not believe his own large margin of victory gives him a special mandate.
“We have a lot of work to do. There are still a significant number of people who didn’t support us,” Schweitzer said. “And we understand we represent everyone in Montana, not just the ones who supported us in re-election.”
But the governor said he does take the victory as an endorsement of what he has done so far, such as looking to expand fishing and hunting access and pursuing new sources of energy along with oil and gas.
“You put all those pieces together and it says that folks would like to have some more of the same,” Schweitzer said.
The governor, who is expected to roll out his budget plans in the next week, said he will give it to the Legislature and let them work on it.
“We’ll step back and give them space and give them an opportunity to discuss, review and cuss, and when the Legislature comes together with an idea and are able to put it on paper we will look at their ideas,” Schweitzer said.
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