Six years ago Gov. Brian Schweitzer raised eyebrows in Big Sky Country and beyond when he made an off-hand remark about then-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
The Montana governor — who touched off a firestorm of controversy last week when he told a reporter for The Daily Beast that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee might have some trouble with voters because his father was “born on a polygamy commune in Mexico” — didn’t use the words “polygamy” or “Mormon” in that interview.
It wasn’t even a perceived jab Romney that caught the attention of bloggers and political wonks. In fact it was quite the opposite.
In an Oct. 8, 2006 New York Times profile of Schweitzer, then a rising-star in the Democratic Party, the bombastic Montana governor told Times reporter Mark Sundeen he would consider voting for Romney for president.
Earlier that year Schweitzer, Romney and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt were part of delegation of governors visiting troops serving in the Middle East as part of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Schweitzer said he spent a lot of time with Romney on that trip and found him to be a “good guy.”
“We talked about all kinds of things, business, family, government, taxes,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer told Sundeen he supported John McCain’s presidential bid in 2000 but soured on McCain because of the way he courted the religious right. Schweitzer went on to say he was intrigued by a possible presidential run by Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts, in 2008.
“If he gets the nomination, I might support him,'” Schweitzer told the Times.
That perceived endorsement of a Republican raise a few Democratic hackles.
A blogger on the national Liberal blog The Daily Kos said he was “appalled” by Schweitzer’s comment, writing, “If he keeps saying stuff like this his future in Democratic politics is over.”
Closer to home Helena Democratic blogger and one-time Schweitzer primary challenger Don Pogreba wrote: “I know that Schweitzer wants to cultivate an image of independence … but Mitt Romney?”
Romney himself added fuel to the budding gubernatorial “bromance” in June 2007 when he told a roomful of reporters gathered at the Montana GOP annual convention in Helena: “If any of you see your governor, give him my best. He’s a great guy.”
Cascade County GOP delegate James Drew, upon hearing the GOP-hopeful’s comment about Schweitzer, dropped his support for Romney.
“He said that?” Drew asked me when I was reporter for the Missoula Independent. “Well, he just lost my vote.”
So does Schweitzer — who said in 2006 he’d consider supporting Romney for president — plan to back the Republican in 2012?
“I’ve watched an evolution in his politics since we traveled together,” Schweitzer said in a recent interview. “He’s taken a right turn on immigration policy and his recent comments about military expansionism are concerning. I’ve got concerns about his policies.”
Schweitzer said he still thinks Romney is a “good man.”
“I haven’t met his family, but he’s a good family man and he’s a warm and good communicator,” Schweitzer said. “I just don’t really share his vision for the future of America’s economic policy.”