The Reason Brian Schweitzer Endorsed Terry McAuliffe?

I try very hard not to assume that every action by every elected official is motivated by nothing more than cynical political self-interest. It's ...
by | June 5, 2009

I try very hard not to assume that every action by every elected official is motivated by nothing more than cynical political self-interest. It's worth considering, for example, that perhaps President Obama didn't tap Schweitzer horse Jon Huntsman to be his ambassador to China to complete some grand political scheme. Perhaps, strange as it might seem, he actually thought Huntsman would make a good ambassador to China.

In that context, you can see why it pains me to say this: I'm struggling to interpret Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's endorsement of Terry McAuliffe as anything other than an effort to curry favor ahead of the 2016 (yes, 2016) presidential race.

That isn't because I have reason to doubt that Schweitzer thinks McAuliffe would make the best governor of Virginia. Instead, it's because there isn't any other good reason for Schweitzer to announce his preference.

Schweitzer currently serves as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. He says he's making the endorsement merely in his capacity as governor of Montana, but he's nonetheless predictably opening himself up to criticism like this from James L. of Swing State Project, a popular Democratic blog:

Meanwhile, McAuliffe is rolling out an endorsement from a surprising source: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer... who is also serving as the chair of the Democratic Governors Association this cycle. The DGA, in case you're not familiar, is the campaign and fundraising arm for Democratic gubernatorial candidates across the country. While Schweitzer's people are claiming that he's only making a personal endorsement, doing so while serving as DGA chair is misguided and unacceptable -- especially when the chances are very real that McAuliffe won't end up being the Democratic nominee on Tuesday. When you're in the position that Schweitzer is in, the only smart and sensible move is to remain neutral until the nominee is decided by the primary electorate.

And I won't even begin to get into the issue of McAuliffe being about as antithetical as possible to the populist, DC-despising image that Schweitzer has carefully crafted for himself over the years...

Why would Schweitzer risk this sort of criticism and risk alienating the Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia if it is Creigh Deeds or Brian Moran?

It can't be because he seriously thinks that his endorsement is going to change the race. I know politicians sometimes overestimate their own importance and I know that Brian Schweitzer has somewhat of a national reputation, but the endorsement of the governor of Montana is not going to sway a lot of Virginia primary voters. So, Schweitzer's endorsement will bring himself a fair number of headaches, without actually achieving much.

However, for someone who likes to depict himself as the opposite of everything Washington, D.C. stands for, Schweitzer sure does seem interested in what goes on in Washington. I'll be surprised if he doesn't run for president at some point in the future.

McAuliffe is about the best in the business at raising money for presidential campaigns. Whether he wins or loses on Tuesday, he'll remember that Schweitzer was on his side. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign proved that you can be a popular, media-savvy governor and still have a very hard time raising money. Schweitzer needs McAuliffe.

But, if someone has a less cynical explanation for the endorsement, I'm very open to hearing it.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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