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Brian Schweitzer Is Your Barack Obama

DENVER --Though Hillary Clinton gave an extraordinary address yesterday night--relaxed and emotive and far more impassioned than at the fine auto-eulogy I saw her deliver in June--I'd like to declare Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer the MVP of Tuesday night. Not only was Schweitzer's delivery emphatic and simple--his mien was entirely genuine, a reality only enhanced by his bolo tie. The governor, an irrigation specialist and practicing Catholic, got the meat of these two identities across without being pedantic, speaking of a crucifix in his home and the environmental battles he fights as an executive with fluency. Voters can smell inauthenticity, which perhaps unfairly, plagued Senate candidate Mark Warner during his keynote just prior--and that was not a whiff of that surrounding Schweitzer (in fact, the governor, who described himself off the bat as a "rancher", regularly wears bolo ties).

He really should have been the keynoter--and even without it, could well be the Barack Obama of 2008. When I was reporting out this piece on how Obama landed his 2004 keynote, many strategists told me that demographic considerations are perhaps even more at play than when selecting a vice president. This probably favored Warner, who in his technocratic, dutiful speech seemed to dampen his fighting Dem credentials for the folks watching in Virginia. There's no guarantee Montana goes blue--but it's a shame the networks ran Warner's address (an honor even Obama did not receive at the Boston convention), because Schweitzer really embodied the message Democrats must take to "regular" America. 

A quick Google investigation* of the governor reveals an appearance at an American Prospect event in which he lays out the very case for casting him as a major face of the party in future: "[People] like what we Democrats do when we're elected--we just have to be more likeable when we're doing the things they like." And oh, was he. Beyond his endearing tics--the A-OK hand gestures, his references to "industry"--he got off some great jabs at McCain, and his hokey but effective pep-rally techniques were straight from the heartland. ("Is it time for a change?" -- "YESSSS!" "When do we need it?" "NOOOOOW!") He was patient with the crowd, and looked like he'd swallowed the canary when it met his exhortations to "stand up" with an overwhelming ovation at the end.

Further, Schweitzer has solid credentials as a nonpartisan doer. As an extraordinarily popular governor of a "red" state (more like fiercely independent), he laid out pretty early that he'd tapped a Republican as his lieutenant, and that they'd worked to bring bipartisan solutions to their state. He's also got a master's in soil science. As such, and as an energy action zealot myself, I thought Schweitzer was just the person to give a forceful delivery of the environmental platform for the Democrats this year. He's really into the issue--and delivered a strong message, I think in a more credible, unfussy manner than when former Energy Secretary Federico Pena spoke an hour earlier.

The stand of trees imposed on the screen behind Schweitzer fairly shimmered as he said some very, very important things to the American people about energy:

Barack Obama knows there's no single platform for energy independence. It's not a question of either wind or clean coal, solar or hydrogen, oil or geothermal. We need them all to create a strong American energy system, a system built on American innovation.

After eight years of a White House waiting hand and foot on big oil, John McCain offers more of the same. At a time of skyrocketing fuel prices, when American families are struggling to keep their gas tanks full, John McCain voted 25 times against renewable and alternative energy. Against clean biofuels. Against solar power. Against wind energy.
Even leaders in the oil industry know that Senator McCain has it wrong. We simply can't drill our way to energy independence, even if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, including the ones he can't even remember.
That single-answer proposition is a dry well, and here's why. America consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, but has less than 3 percent of the reserves. You don't need a $2 calculator to figure that one out. There just isn't enough oil in America, on land or offshore, to meet America's full energy needs.

Schweitzer's most important line on this topic focused on efficiency, and he milked it: "Barack Obama understands the most important barrel of oil is the one you don't use." After a fleeting hesitation, that, too got a huge cheer from the crowd. Energy conservation and efficiency and indepedence is not over our collective heads, and I think this speech demonstrated as much. That, coupled with the mix of solutions he laid out for the audience, was some fine political messaging. And the last line, clearly ad-libbed: "That's it baby--let's go win this election!" was dynamite.

If you missed it, watch the whole speech here:

--Dayo Olopade