Stopped by the Labor Day picnic at Rose Park Monday and listened to Brian Schweitzer and Ken Miller work the crowd. Clearly, that's Schweitzer's forum. Not only is he one of the ablest glad handers in the business, he even got picnickers listening to his speech, which started, oddly enough, with an extended quote from E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column that appeared in Monday morning's Gazette: "For 25 years, we have been hearing that labor depends upon capital. It's time to resurrect the other, buried truth: that capital depends upon labor," and much else in that vein. Then Schweitzer got the crowd going with a litany of complaints about what Republicans have done to this state and about what he could do to fix it. The speech included this odd conclusion: He said that Democrats should tell their Republican friends (of which Yellowstone County has many, he noted) to vote for Schweitzer, and threaten never to speak to them again if they don't.
This was a much tougher crowd for Miller. His voice got lost in the picnic chatter, and I don't think many people heard much of what he had to say. I heard something about creating jobs that pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but it wasn't delivered in a way that had much detectable impact. I have been skeptical about Miller's chances in this race, mostly because he can't do public events as effectively as a natural like Schweitzer. Even a state this small is too big for one-on-one politics to win a statewide race. But a few people who know politics better than I do keep warning me against writing Miller off: Not only was he elected to the state Senate from a historically (although perhaps not anymore) Democratic town, and not only did he pay his dues as the state party chairman, but he also has the ear of the state's social conservatives. As they showed in Bruce Simon's run against Joyce Schmidt for state auditor, social conservatives carry a lot of clout.