Schweitzer: I’m Brian Schweitzer.
Bohlinger: “And I’m John Bohlinger.”
Schweitzer: Four years ago, when I chose John, a Republican, to be my Lieutenant Governor, I took some heat from a few Democrats.
Bohlinger: And I know some Republicans who weren’t happy either.
Schweitzer: But working across party lines was more important to us. We’ve created the largest budget surplus and the most tax relief in state history, we’ve helped create over 50,000 new jobs, and our economy is one of the fastest growing in the country. Did I leave anything out?”
Bohlinger: Just that you couldn’t have done it without me.
Pretty clever. Schweitzer has been working this line for four years, and Republicans still haven't found a way to react except by sounding pissy about it. But voters' desire for bipartisan consensus is real, and the GOP ignores it at its peril.
UPDATE: Montana Headlines responds. I don't disagree at all with his analysis of the situation, but I doubt for a couple of reasons that the solution he suggests (demonstrating where the governor has rejected compromise) will be effective.
One is that there just aren't a lot of hard lines of difference between the two parties. Both believe in economic development, some environmental protection, balanced budgets and reasonable taxes. They disagree mostly about where to draw the line, not about whether a line should be drawn. So if voters mostly like the way things stand, then they probably will vote to keep things they way they are.
The other is that most people, even political junkies, just don't follow day-to-day legislative operations that closely. So trying to educate the masses about cases where Republicans sought compromise and Schweitzer rejected it is likely to be a futile endeavor, easily glossed over by the political campaigns. Where the GOP has to fight back is on symbols -- and Schweitzer seems to have that end of the game pretty well locked up.
UPDATE 2: In comments, Montana Headlines observes that I seem to be calling on Montana Republicans to engage in the same sort of battles over symbols that I have criticized in the McCain campaign. He's right about that, I think, or at least that thought occurred to me while I was delivering papers along Shiloh Road yesterday.
But first, a point of disagreement. Montana Headlines suggests that I think voters don't really care about bipartisanship, just about the appearance of it. No, I don't mean that at all. Voters really do care about bipartisanship, but they are unlikely to be persuaded by going through the minutiae of past legislative battles that Republicans are better at it than Democrats.
So what do I think Republicans should do? Any Republicans who care about my opinion are welcome to send large checks to The Billings Outpost Relief Fund (1833 Grand Ave., Billings MT 59102), but here's the freeware version:
1. In legislative races, Republicans should take it on a case-by-case basis. They should point out that Republicans are the go-to guys on low taxes and energy development, and they can try to persuade voters that the GOP's years of fiscal prudence led to the relative prosperity Montana enjoys now. They should (generally) avoid social issues, ignore the national party and never, ever say a bad word about John Bohlinger.
2. In the governor's race, Roy Brown should campaign hard, run a clean race, build up as much favorable name recognition as possible and hope for better luck in 2012. Brown's a good man, and probably would be a good governor, but the odds this year are awfully long.
3. If Brown, as my advisee, says that's not good enough -- he wants to win now -- then my advice would have to be that he go immediately, heavily and profoundly negative. If he can find a picture of Schweitzer giving somebody a haircut, play it big. If Schweitzer has ever tortured a kitten, beaten his wife or cheated a business partner, go for it. If Bohlinger shoplifts bow ties, make an example of him.
I don't think that strategy would be likely to work, and it might very well taint Brown enough to damage any future campaigns. But I think it's the only thing that might work.