Schweitzer’s Trip Back East Not a Hit With Some

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday that his weekend trip back East to back Terry McAuliffe in the high-profile Virginia gubernatorial primary does not mean he’s trying to gain position on the national political stage.

Schweitzer, who chairs the Democratic Governor’s Association, said he endorsed McAuliffe in part because McAuliffe was the only one to ask and because he thought the longtime Bill Clinton friend would be a good governor. The Montana governor said he never thought his endorsement would be terribly meaningful in Virginia politics, and said he isn’t trying to score points in national politics.

“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make any noise?” Schweitzer asked. “I am kind of like that, no one knows me in Virginia.”

The Montana governor’s trip back East last weekend to endorse the eventual loser in a Virginia gubernatorial primary did leave some Beltway political analysts questioning the move.

A week ago, Schweitzer’s decision to back McAuliffe, who has served as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign manager, was being called a key endorsement — even though some were wondering how the Montana governor could help in a Virginia race. But Schweitzer’s credentials as chairman of the DGA and a darling to insiders after last year’s speech at the party’s national convention in Denver gave the endorsement some weight.

But after McAuliffe lost big Tuesday to State Sen. Creigh Deeds, Schweitzer’s move was being called a loser.

“Why the heck did the chairman of the DGA fly from Montana to Virginia to not only endorse McAuliffe but travel the state with him?” wrote the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. “We didn’t understand it when it happened and we understand it even less now.”

Schweitzer’s adversaries at the Republican Governors Association quickly piled on, poking fun at the DGA chairman for picking the losing side.

Schweitzer said he is of course now backing Deeds, and thinks he is a natural choice for governor.

Schweitzer’s role as DGA chairman is giving him an increasingly larger role in national politics — even giving him billing as a national party leader in some circles — although Schweitzer said he was endorsing McAuliffe as the Montana governor and not as the DGA chair.

The governor said he is no party leader — citing a long list of influential Democrats from the president on down through Congress.

“Anybody who calls me the spark plug to all this is not paying attention,” Schweitzer said.