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Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer makes the most of the spotlight

August 27, 2008 | 10:03 am

DENVER -- Montana Democrats no doubt will revel in Barack Obama's appearance in Billings today, his last campaign stop before heading here. But they already had reason to be excited this morning -- their offbeat and folksy governor, Brain Schweitzer, was the surprise hit of the party's national convention Tuesday night, garnering rave reviews for a rousing speech. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer stirred his crowd at the Democratic National Convention

Schweitzer, who is 52, was sandwiched on the program between keynote speaker Mark Warner and the evening's much-anticipated climax, Hillary Clinton's speech.

The crowd was there  to hear Clinton, and a parade of speakers preceding her had failed to grab its full attention (including Warner).

That is, until Schweitzer -- clad in blazer, blue jeans, bolo tie and cowboy boots (his signature look) -- strode unto the stage.

Jimmy Orr, blogging for the Christian Science Monitor, nicely captures Schweitzer's achievement, writing that he "did the equivalent of summiting Everest ... getting the crowd to roar while discussing renewable energy. Sir Edmund Hilary would be proud."

His success was sealed as he engaged his audience in a call-and-response moment.

“Can we afford four more years?” he asked. “No!” came the reply.

“Is it time for change?” “Yes!”

“When do we need it?” “Now!”

"Who's going to lead us there, as the next president of the United States?" "Barack Obama."

Schweitzer revved up the Pepsi Center, and Clinton took it from there.

[UPDATE: The governor may have done himself one better this morning. Appearing at a breakfast meeting of the Florida convention delegation, he got his listeners barking!].

We encountered Schweitzer earlier in the week and he's clearly enthused about Obama's chances of carrying ...

Montana and its three electoral votes (which normally would be all-but-conceded to the Republican ticket at this point--Bill Clinton in 1992 aside).

He noted that Obama's trip there today represents his fifth stop in a state not known for attracting presidential candidates.

His assessment of the status of the fight for Montana between Obama and John McCain? "It's a dead-danged tie!"

Yes, he relishes talking like that. But its also worth noting that Schweitzer -- who was first elected four years ago and appears headed for a second term in this November's vote --  holds a master's degree in soil science, spent several years working overseas on irrigation projects and speaks Arabic.

A rube, in short, he is not.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press

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