No, the real reason Howard Dean and other progressive groups are so enthusiastic about Schweitzer isn’t about guns at all. That’s merely a smokescreen. The reason why they’re encouraging the popular former governor to run in the wake of Baucus’ sudden retirement is because he’s one of the few remaining true-blue populists left in the Democratic party. He boasts cross-party appeal in a conservative state by melding economic liberalism with social conservatism. He’s for a single-payer health insurance system and rails against moneyed interests, but is fiercely pro-gun and pro-drilling. He wins support from the blue-collar white voters that have left the Democratic Party in recent years. And looking at the 2014 Senate map and the worsening political environment for the party, Democrats are going to need those types of candidates now more than ever.
There’s been a lot written about the Senate seats Democrats are defending on the most conservative turf – West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas and Louisiana. But the most useful indicators for how the battle for the Senate will shape up will be in more politically-competitive states with working-class populations, like Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, and even Michigan. (Of note: All those states have gun ownership rates above the national average.) There’s a high potential for bubbling anger among those voters over the state of the economy, the implementation of the president’s health care law and the Democratic party choosing to prioritize social issues like gun control and immigration over focusing on the economic interests of the middle class.