By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA – Maybe Brian Schweitzer just isn’t that into Jon Tester anymore.
In 2006, running as a little-known state senator from Big Sandy trying to topple Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, Tester hauled in Schweitzer numerous times to boost his profile and favorability among Montana voters.
But this year, while Tester’s trying to break through a difficult re-election challenge, Schweitzer’s nowhere to be found.
Well, nowhere is a bit strong; he’s just not shoulder-to-shoulder with Tester.
Some might argue Tester raised his profile after six years in office and no longer needs the governor’s help. While Tester is markedly more known than when he originally declared his intent to run for the Senate, a ringing endorsement from Montana’s popular governor might help with independent voters, a worrying demographic for Tester.
A Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered voters conducted last week and released over the weekend showed Tester trailing Republican challenger Denny Rehberg, the state’s lone congressman since 2001, by three points.
That and several other polls giving Rehberg the edge prompted political guru and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato to re-classify the race as “Leans Republican,” after months in the “Toss-up” category.
Rehberg’s lead is partially thanks to a nine-point edge over Tester among self-identified independent voters, a deficit Tester must address if he hopes to seize another U.S. Senate term.
Schweitzer is one of America’s most popular governors, and his backing couldn’t hurt. The Washington Post recently ranked him the ninth-most popular state executive, and Public Policy Polling found 56 percent of Montanans approve of Schweitzer’s time in office according to a poll released Sept. 13.
That popularity could translate into votes for Tester, currently experiencing a two-point underwater mark for his own favorability according to PPP.
Yet, regular Montana voters haven’t seen the governor alongside Tester like they did in 2006.
Sure, Schweitzer’s a busy guy – he has a state to run, after all – and might not have time for the senator, but perhaps the governor’s more into himself than saving a Senate seat for Democrats.
Here’s a short list of activities Schweitzer’s pursued in the past six months while not stumping for Tester:
Hobnobbing with Letterman. In late April, Schweitzer visited the Big Apple to promote Montana as a tourist paradise. While in New York, he graced David Letterman’s set, gleefully chatting and cracking jokes with the network funny man. Letterman owns a 2,700-acre ranch near Choteau, so maybe the governor just wanted to mull over land issues with a constituent.
Trashing white Montanans. Schweitzer has a way with words, but on Aug. 28 at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner, he definitely flubbed a few, describing many caucasian Montanans as redneck and racist.
Forwarding his own career. Schweitzer has aspirations after he leaves the governor’s mansion due to term limits in January, even if he won’t reveal his plans. To drum up buzz for a possible presidential run in 2016, he spoke with Iowa delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the morning of Sept. 6. Later that night, Schweitzer delivered a folksy convention address, ripping Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on guns and taxes.
Tester’s using a vastly different strategy this year than in 2006, when Schweitzer helped the upstart Democrat topple Burns.
After securing the Democratic nomination in a tight primary, Tester quickly introduced himself to voters using Schweitzer’s aid. In three early television spots, Tester mentioned helping or working with Schweitzer at the Capitol in Helena on everything from wind energy to tax cuts.
Tester also name dropped Schweitzer in a fourth ad just days prior to the election.
As the campaign inched through October and November, Schweitzer himself appeared in three more pro-Tester ads.
“We all know it’s a new day in Montana and I’ll bet my dog Jag that when Jon Tester gets to Washington, it’ll be a new day there, too,” said a solo Schweitzer — Jag excluded — in a Nov. 3, 2006 spot.
Schweitzer also rallies alongside Montana senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for Tester on the University of Montana campus in a Nov. 3 video posted to the senator’s campaign YouTube channel.
In all, Tester referenced Schweitzer in seven of his 16 television campaign ads.
While Tester’s released television commercials about his affinity for Montana home-cooked beef and his commitment to outdoor life using talking dead animals mounted in a fictional cabin setting, Schweitzer has yet to appear on the senator’s behalf.
Schweitzer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Tester and Schweitzer might have just ripped off one of the governor’s favorite adages to insert it into the campaign – they’re just saving a little extra grain in the bin for later.
Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org or catch him on Twitter using the @DustinHurst handle.