HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer has so far been a bystander in the state's big U.S. Senate race showdown — and he says he thinks he's more effective helping down-ticket Democrats.
Polling shows that Schweitzer remains the most popular politician in the state. But U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has not brought Schweitzer in as a surrogate on the campaign trail even though both are friendly and complimentary of one another.
Tester is deadlocked with Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg in a race that is dominating state politics.
But Schweitzer said he doesn't think he can help, and believes he can be more effective helping candidates for state offices because those are the issues he has worked on as governor.
The term-limited Democrat also said he doesn't think he can be as convincing or helpful on the national issues dominating the Senate race — even though he has become a very frequent commentator on CNN.
"I have spent the last eight years actively involved in state issues. Who can figure what they do in Washington, D.C.?" said Schweitzer. "I can't."
Schweitzer has previously said he thinks unpopular Obama administration policies will be a big drag on congressional Democratic candidates in places like Montana.
Schweitzer said he expects to do more rallies next week touting state Democratic candidates like Steve Bullock for governor, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, state schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and others. He is also helping local legislative candidates.
"If I get my elk over the weekend, then I will have more time for campaigning," Schweitzer said before the opening day of hunting season.
Schweitzer has already been active behind the scenes with fundraisers for Bullock and many others. He also said he is recording advertisements with candidates that will be used in the closing days of the elections.
Schweitzer said he thinks state Democrats have a strong record to run on, particularly the development of natural resources on the land board he chairs and is run by Bullock, McCulloch, Juneau and state auditor Monica Lindeen.
He argues his administration has strong budget and tax policies for Democrats to run on as well.
Schweitzer said he will be reminding voters of the bills brought by Republican legislators, such as legalized spear hunting and failed plans to strip funding for tourism promotion that he argues has helped fuel record visitation.
"These Democrats that I run with, I will help them remind the voters that the people they are running against had these crazy ideas," Schweitzer said.
In 2006, Schweitzer played a relatively prominent role in Tester's election — from TV commercials to barnstorming campaign tours.
But political scientist David Parker said the dynamics are different now that Tester has held office for six years. He said a surrogate like Schweitzer doesn't offer much help to a well-established candidate.
"People know Tester now. They didn't in 2006," said the Montana State University professor.
Schweitzer said he remains friends with Tester. The Tester campaign said the former state senator from Big Sandy admires Schweitzer's leadership and past help — even if not needed this time.
Campaign manager Preston Elliott said the "Senate race is, and always has been, about two people."