Montana gov. says West’s in play in election |

Montana gov. says West’s in play in election

Mike Glover
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

INDIANOLA, Iowa – Big slices of the traditionally Republican west remain in play despite the presence of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the running mate to GOP nominee John McCain, though she will inject western issues into the race, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Sunday.

“She’s not the only one whose been around a moose,” Schweitzer said. “I have too.”

Schweitzer was the featured speaker at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, one of the biggest events of the year for Democrats. He rocked the Democratic National Convention in Denver with a rousing assault on McCain.

Since that time, McCain has added Palin to his ticket, with many arguing she’s given a jolt of energy to a GOP campaign that had languished. Some also argued that her presence ended any Democratic chances in the west.

Meeting with reporters, Schweitzer dismissed that argument.

“I think Montana is still tied, in Colorado (Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama) is ahead, in New Mexico Obama is ahead,” said Schweitzer. “I don’t know what part of the west they’re talking about. Montana is still considered the west.”

Schweitzer said he doubts polling which shows McCain gaining ground.

“Polls bounce back and forth. After every convention you get a little bit of a bounce,” said Schweitzer said. They were about tied when they started and they’re about tied now.”

Schweitzer also suggested polls don’t reflect Obama’s support among younger people.

“If you want to start talking about the people who are underpolled, start talking about college students, start talking about young people,” said Schweitzer, who said that the cell-phone generation isn’t being reached in surveys.

“We’ve given them the greatest challenge with a non-sustainable food system, a non-sustainable energy system and yet they are up to the challenge,” said SChweitzer. “They’re going to vote for Barack Obama and they carry cell phones.”

Schweitzer spoke to more than 1,000 activists huddled on a chilly and wind-blown balloon field, a far smaller turnout than usual at Harkin’s annual event. More than 15,000 showed up for last year’s event, featuring multiple presidential candidates only a few months before the state’s leadoff precinct caucuses.

Schweitzer said real voters haven’t started to tune in for the election.

“You’re a long ways from the end of this race, there hasn’t even been a debate yet,” Schweitzer said. “People will get an opportunity to focus on this race. The people who are focused on this race right now are mostly the people who are writing newspapers and doing television. The regular folks out there who are raising families and working on farms and driving trucks, they’ve got a lot of things important in life and politics comes in third or fourth.”

He predicted that will change.

“They’ll focus on this race about the first of October,” Schweitzer said.

His speech was focused on bolstering the alternative energy industry, a very popular topic in Iowa where millions of bushels of corn are distilled into ethanol.

“The message today is we need to produce American energy,” said Schweitzer. “I would say grow it, blow it, drill it or dig it, but make it American.”

Harkin’s steak fry traditionally features presidential candidates or potential candidates. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have all spoken at the event, some multiple times. Harkin selected Schweitzer to speak at this event because he’s a rising star from a section of the nation where Democrats have the potential for growth.

“Brian Schweitzer is one of our most important WMDs, and that’s not weapons of mass destruction, that’s west of the Mississippi Democrats,” Harkin said. “What he’s done in Montana and the message he has is one that I think we national Democrats ought to be adopting.

Harkin is seeking a fifth term in the Senate this year, and for the first time Republicans aren’t running a prominent opponent against him. He faces Christopher Reed, a Marion businessman making his first try for public office.

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