DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Democratic Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer isn't saying if he'll run for president in 2016. But if he does, he thinks he can connect with voters in Iowa.
Schweitzer, who served as governor from 2005 through early 2013, was set to visit the early voting state of Iowa on Wednesday to speak to a liberal advocacy group. While the popular, outspoken ex-governor has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, he told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he has not made any decisions about the race.
"That's a long ways out. I've got a lot of things I'm doing. I'm enjoying being away from politics for a little while," said Schweitzer, 58. But he noted that his rural roots may appeal to Iowa voters. "If I did run for president, I'd be the first one who came to Iowa who could tell you how many kernels of corn to plant per acre."
Visits to Iowa from Democrats eying the presidential race have been sparse this year, with many hopefuls watching to see whether former Sen. Hillary Clinton decides to run. The former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state would be the leading contender for the Democratic nomination if she got in. But Iowa Democrats said that even if Clinton is in the race, voters will want to consider their options, and that could provide an opening for someone like Schweitzer, who has little name recognition in the state.
"Secretary Clinton is obviously very popular among Iowa Democrats. But at the same time, Iowa Democrats I can't imagine are looking for a coronation," said Democratic political consultant Jeff Link.
Schweitzer, who decided against running for an open Senate seat in Montana in 2014, was recently elected board chairman of Stillwater Mining Co., Montana's largest publicly traded company. A poll released by The Des Moines Register on Tuesday showed that 68 percent of Iowa residents were not sure who he was. The poll of 650 Iowa adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
A Democrat from a conservative state, Schweitzer is known for a colorful style and a can-do attitude. He successfully got budget bills passed by a Republican legislature, touted Montana tourism on late night television and tried to rally crowds around issues like energy independence.
"Democrats, they're not good with money. I'm a hybrid. I've demonstrated that I can challenge expenses. I'll run government like a small business," Schweitzer said.
Former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said Schweitzer could definitely appeal to Iowa Democrats.
"Schweitzer came to talk to our delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. He's super engaging, he's super entertaining and he lives agriculture issues," Dvorsky said.
Schweitzer will give the keynote address Wednesday night at the 2013 Progress Iowa Holiday Party in Altoona.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Iowa in September, and a number of potential Republican presidential candidates have held Iowa events this year.