Dressed in his trademark bolo tie, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer started slow in his primetime speech but ended with folksy charm and rocked the house at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Tuesday night.
“We need all of you to stand up,” Schweitzer hollered. “Colorado, stand up! Florida, stand up! Pennsylvania, get off your hind end! In the cheap seats, stand up!”
“We want them to hear you from Denver to Detroit, from Montana to Mississippi, from California to the Carolinas,” he said.
The place leapt to its feet. Signs waved.
Then Schweitzer broke into the classic cheer: “Is it time for change to happen?”
The building roared.
“Who’s going to lead us to the next president of the United States.”
“That’s it! Let’s go win this election,” he said, and walked off the stage to chants of “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”
One PBS commentator called Schweitzer the dose of “real personality” the convention needed. In the basement of the convention, NewWest.Net correspondent Jill Kuraitis watched as journalists, staffers and convention workers dropped what they were doing to watch the governor.
As Kuraitis writes in a Reporter’s Notebook post: When Schweitzer hit one of his winning applause lines or did his twinkly-eyes thing, the housekeeper standing next to me, Lorena, would clap and laugh. “Why didn’t you people nominate him” she wanted to know.
A very young Biden staffer turned to his co-worker, leaned over and said, “Geez. Learn something from that guy.” They nodded in conspiracy.
Schweitzer opened his speech by telling the crowd that he’s a rancher who has made his living raising cattle, growing wheat, barley and alfalfa in Montana. He described Montana’s beauty — the rivers, soaring peaks and endless sky. It sounded like he was pitching the state to a convention of business groups. Montana’s the greatest place in the world to raise a family, start a business and build a community, he said.
Schweitzer talked about how he chose Republican John Bohlinger as his running mate, and he went through his list of accomplishments, including cutting taxes, increasing energy production and compiling a record surplus. All this left the crowd polite but distant.
“That’s the change that we brought to Montana, and that’s the change President Barack Obama is going to bring to the United States,” Schweitzer said. It was his first mention of Obama, and it got some applause.
Maybe it was the modest response, but Schweitzer changed his tactic a bit, seeming to break a bit from his prepared speech. (You can read his prepared remarks here.) He stumbled on his words, talking about his family with its roots on the high plains. He got folksy, and the arena reacted.
“Let me ask you something,” he said, leaning in close to the microphone as if about to say something in confidence. “Can we afford four more years?”
“No,” came the answer roaring back.
Schweitzer stepped back from the microphone, turned to look to the side, and said, “Not bad.” It was clear he was talking about the response. “Is it time for a change?” he hollered.
From then on, the crowd was in his hand. He got the crowd shouting for Barack, and then he broke out, saying, “That’s right! Barack Obama. That’s right!”
Then the eleventh and last governor of the night launched into one of his pet topics — energy independence. He lit into the “petro-dictators” and touted the promise of clean energy production as well as drilling for coal and oil.
He joked about Obama’s Republican rival, John McCain, saying, “Even leaders in the oil industry know that Senator McCain has it wrong. We can’t simply drill our way to energy independence, if you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain’s back yards, even the ones he doesn’t know he has!”
The crowd went nuts, and Schweitzer yelled, “Woo hoo! Not bad. Not bad! That single answer proposition is a dry well.” Cameras panned to the cheering Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, who was clapping and at times, smiling and shaking his head.
A moment later, Schweitzer winked, clearly enjoying himself.
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Here’s a clip from the DNC of Schweitzer talking about drilling…