Brian Schweitzer considering 2016 presidential run

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Alex Wong/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

Add another name to the short list of Democrats seriously considering a run for president in 2016.

In an interview with RealClearPolitics, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer indicated that he may launch a White House bid, even if front-runner Hillary Clinton also enters the race.

"I still hold the people of Iowa and New Hampshire in high regard," Schweitzer said of the nation's first caucus and primary states. "The people of Iowa are a whole lot like the people of Montana. And, of course, New Hampshire's a lot like Montana. We don't have a sales tax. 'Live Free or Die' -- we understand that notion in Montana."

A popular two-term governor who once used a red-hot branding iron to veto several bills passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, Schweitzer would offer a hefty dose of rural folksiness against the East Coast urbanites in the potential Democratic field, including Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Asked whether there would be room for a populist candidate to run a credible race against Clinton, Schweitzer left no doubt that he can envision himself in that very role.

After noting that a high percentage of Democratic primary voters are women and agreeing that it is "time for a woman president," Schweitzer quickly qualified his assessment by adding what would likely be a central tenet of his pitch in a campaign against Clinton:

"There's a whole lot of America that looks at each other and says, 'Well, there's 340 million people living in America. Isn't there somebody other than a Bush or a Clinton who can be president in these modern times? Isn't there hope for somebody who's running a business or who has served overseas or comes from a different occupation to become president? Are we now in the era of royalty again?' So I think there's some level of frustration about that."

Shortly after leaving office, Schweitzer executed a hostile takeover of Stillwater Mining -- the largest publicly traded mining company in Montana. He also owns several ranches across the state.

His latest comments about potentially running against Clinton are in stark contrast to an appraisal he made to the Associated Press a year ago. At that time, Schweitzer said, "If Hillary runs, she walks away with the nomination and then beats whichever Republican."

But as he has settled into his private sector role, Schweitzer's views on whether anyone can beat the former senator and secretary of state appear to have changed significantly.

After being term-limited last year, he was heavily recruited by national Democrats to run for his state's open Senate seat in 2014 but announced in July that he would not do so.

His heavy use of the veto pen -- or veto branding iron, in his case -- and reputation as a competent fiscal steward earned him consistently high approval ratings in Republican-leaning Montana.

Schweitzer's tough-talking leadership style, anti-Washington ethos, and proven ability to win in a state that has not been friendly to his own party in presidential elections might draw Democratic comparisons to New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, another 2016 presidential aspirant.

But the pro-gun, pro-coal policies that worked for Schweitzer so well in Montana would be a far tougher sell in a Democratic primary.

Another of Schweitzer's most immediate challenges in mounting a serious campaign would be to build his name recognition against the universally known and already nearly anointed Clinton.

But in the interview with RCP, Schweitzer suggested that his down-home persona and knack for generating free media coverage might keep him in the hunt, particularly in Iowa -- a state that has not been friendly territory for Clinton in the past.

"Who would've thunk Obama would come out of this thing when you had, my God, Dodd, Biden, Billy Richardson, Hillary Clinton," Schweitzer said of the 2008 Democratic nominating contest. "So the nice thing about the people of Iowa is they ain't going to let the rest of America make up their minds for them."

  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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