Brian Schweitzer interview

Salon caught up with Montana's governor Thursday, a few hours before Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

Topics: 2008 Elections, War Room,

Brian Schweitzer is the outspoken Montana governor who prefers jeans and Native American bolo ties to business apparel. He gave a spirited convention speech on Tuesday night that, for many Democrats and most Americans outside his home state, was their first glimpse of this self-effacing and funny state chief executive. He took a few moments to chat with Salon on Thursday.

Schweitzer handicapped Obama’s chances this November in the Western states and talked about John McCain’s problems with his base. (The interview was conducted before the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.)

Watched you from the floor for your big speech the other night. It was a typical, animated Brian Schweitzer speech. Were you nervous? I notice you didn’t have Jag with you. [Jag is the governor's border collie, which walks back and forth to work with Schweitzer and often attends political events with him.]

Nope, not a bit. I do feel a lot more comfortable when my dog is with me. If there’s a light moment he will run out there and maybe roll over or start shaking paws with the crowd.

Handicap the Western states for me this fall for Barack Obama against John McCain.

Montana, we won’t know about [the result] until midnight, which is the closest it’s been in 15 years. Obama could win it, but it’s gonna be close. John McCain is going to have to fight for it. Ditto in North Dakota. Wyoming, Idaho and Utah — not in play. Colorado, Obama wins. New Mexico, Obama wins. Nevada, Obama wins.

Your name had been floated by some as a possible vice-presidential candidate. What do think of Joe Biden?

I think it was a great choice, a great choice. Not only is he going to be able to get out a stick and hit a few people with it, he can say it in a way that is not particularly edgy. And he’s a competent guy. The greatest attribute about Joe Biden is that there isn’t a person in America that would say, “You know, I’m not sure he’s ready to be president.” If something should happen — the unthinkable — Joe Biden is ready to be president.

A lot of people are talking about, if Obama wins, should healthcare come first or energy reform come first? I’m sure you have some thoughts on this.

Both. You can’t pay for healthcare if we’re sending a trillion dollars a year to dictators. Bottom line is, we gotta stop hemorrhaging, and the hemorrhaging is full-flung. Climate change, that is the long-term economic hit to our economy. The short-term economic hit to our economy is the largest transfer of wealth from one economy to another economy. So, create a new energy system in America, and create an energy system that’s cleaner and greener and is designed by American engineers and built by American workers. Once we get that right we can afford to invest in healthcare and education.

You ran with a Republican running mate for lieutenant governor. What do you think about the rumors that McCain is considering Joe Lieberman as his running mate?

He’s got a problem right now because his base doesn’t really support him. I don’t know a single Republican in Montana who would get in a fight in a bowling alley for John McCain. That’s tough for him. He just doesn’t have a base that is committed to him. Lieberman would hurt him with his base and there aren’t many Democrats that would fall in love with John McCain because he’s dating Joe Lieberman.

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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