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Sunday, October 15, 2006 | 10:02 PM

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine had an article last week (I keep getting to these things late) on Montana governor Bill Schweitzer, who has attracted a bit of attention for being an ideosyncratic Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state. The author explores the question of whether his strategy would work as a national strategy.
Democrats hasten to assure the region’s notoriously prickly and independent voters that the national party’s new Western focus doesn’t mean that Washington will exercise any control over candidates in the region. “We’re not trying to be a top-down organization like the Republicans,” says Karen Finney, spokeswoman of the D.N.C. In the West, of course, being seen as refusing to take orders is a way to demonstrate your frontier spirit.
And the dangers of exporting his ideas are just as strong.
Democrats will be wise not to try to replicate Schweitzer himself. When non-Schweitzers try to act like Schweitzer, it usually doesn’t work. In his book, Schaller recalls “campaign images of Al Gore wearing cowboy boots with his belt-clipped Blackberry, or a barn-jacket-clad John Kerry buying a goose-hunting license.” Schaller goes on to write that these gestures force “liberals to avert their eyes in horror, while conservatives look on from afar with a mixture of disdain and disbelief.”
It seems that both factions of the Democratic party are willing to claim credit for him - DLCer's see him as one of their own, while Dean wants to credit his 50-state strategy. The Democratic Strategist, in response to the article, sees the West as part of a larger trend.
It seems likely that any strategy or national candidates that can win the Mountain West could also find support in the SW and even some support in the South, and perhaps vice-versa.
In fact, the best thing the Democratic party can do, as suggested by the Times article, is sit back and let things take their course. The best thing not to do is to erect a different strategy, like a Southern strategy, that could come into competition. People in the South and the West have different conceptions of freedom. In the West, it's individual freedom, but the South tends to like federalism, and freedom of individual states - which is not the same thing.

Part of Schweitzer's appeal is his "underdog know-how." His kind of ground-up construction of a platform is hard to rush, but the national Democratic party can help by clearing away any distractions. When it's ready, this approach will be able to shape a national platform.

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