California Governor Jerry Brown said he will not seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2016. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Other potential Democratic Presidential aspirants are not likely to seek the nomination should Hillary enter the race. On the surface, this may seem auspicious for Hillary. One by one, most of her potential competition for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination may slide by the wayside.
However, if this scenario actually plays out, this could prove more of a curse than a blessing. The worst possible scenario for Hillary might be having just one major Democratic challenger who could consolidate all the pent-up frustration within the Democratic Party against the Obama administration and against the establishment faction of the Democratic Party. Assuming Vice President Joe Biden does not run, Hillary, having served as U.S. Secretary of State for four years, will likely become the face card of the Obama administration.
Recent political history indicates that Hillary might be better off facing multiple challengers rather than a single competitor. For example, in 1968 there was a deep chasm within the Democratic Party between the establishment faction who supported President Lyndon B Johnson for re-election and an insurrectionist bloodline of mostly younger voters who were disenchanted with the President over his escalation of troops in Vietnam. Their flagship issue was ending the war. U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) was the only challenger to Johnson in the New Hampshire Primary. He said of the war, "It has long since passed the point in which it can be morally justified." McCarthy unified and galvanized the anti-war sentiment and garnered a staggering 42 percent of the vote, embarrassing the President. Johnson subsequently announced he would not seek re-election.
In 1999, U.S. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), and U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) all decided against a Presidential bid. This left former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) as the only major challenger to Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination. Accordingly, Bradley was afforded the opportunity to take on the Vice President one-on-one. Although he had a centrist voting record in the Senate, liberals who viewed Gore as too moderate gravitated to Bradley. Senator Bradley ran as the progressive alternative to Gore. At one point, he was the front-runner in the New Hampshire Primary, forcing Gore to declare himself "the underdog." However, Bradley's campaign fizzled, in part because Independents from open primary states were more drawn to Republican John McCain's insurgency candidacy.
By contrast, in 1984 the establishment candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale, had six major candidates splintering the anti-Mondale vote, and in 1988, the Republican establishment candidate, Vice President George H.W. Bush, had five main opponents, all splitting the anti-Bush vote. In both cases, the establishment candidates were able to win the race.
If history repeats itself, Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer could pose a formidable challenge to Hillary should the race become a one-on-one contest. Schweitzer is charismatic and has the potential of assembling a coalition of progressive Democrats and Libertarian-oriented Independents in Open Primary States, including New Hampshire.
Governor Schweitzer musters electoral bone fides. He can boast about having been elected twice in a red state: Since 1952, Montana has only voted twice for a Democratic Presidential candidate (1964 and 1992). In 2008, Schweitzer was re-elected as Governor with 65.5 percent of the vote, as Obama concomitantly lost the Big Sky State.
Schweitzer has strategically positioned himself to capitalize on most of Hillary's points of vulnerability. He brands Obama a "corporatist." Schweitzer would appeal to those on the leftwing of the Democratic Party who agree that the Affordable Care Act is "a transfer of your dollars to insurance companies." Schweitzer supports implementing a single-payer not-for-profit healthcare system.
Furthermore, Schweitzer will appeal to liberals who believe that the party has become too obsequies to Wall Street interests. Schweitzer speaks of the deleterious effects of special interests on the Democratic Party, and labels the nation's Capital: "A giant cesspool filled with special interests."
In addition to the anti-corporate message which would appeal to the leftwing of the Democratic Party, Schweitzer also has a Libertarian streak which could strike a resonate chord with both Liberals and Libertarians. Schweitzer calls revelations unearthed about the scope of the NSA Surveillance program "uneffenbelievable."
With respect to foreign policy, unlike Hillary, Schweitzer was an early critic of the War in Iraq. In sharp contrast, Hillary voted to authorize the war and, while critical of the Bush administration's execution of the war, she did not disavow her vote. In addition, Schweitzer is a critic of the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Hillary, as Secretary of State, supported the Obama administration's "troop surge strategy."
Beyond opposing these wars, which continue to be unpopular with the Democratic base, Schweitzer has a broader criticism of the fundamental nature of current U.S. foreign policy. He is a critic of "The Military Industrial Complex" and in an interview with Slate Magazine Schweitzer acknowledged that part of the reason why the U.S. has an acrimonious relationship with Iran is "because of what we did in 1953, replacing an elected official [Prime Minster Mohammed Mossadegh] with a dictator [Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi]." Schweitzer also points out that the U.S. government supplied chemical weapons to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980's, which were subsequently used against Iranians. This message would resonate with Independents who supported the Presidential campaign of U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), in part because of his message that U.S. foreign policy effectuates blowback toward American interests.
The best-case scenario for Hillary, other than having a clear field, is to have a litany of candidates vying for the nomination. They would cancel each other out, allowing Hillary to sail to the nomination. The worst case scenario for Hillary would be to face off against just one candidate for the nomination who could exploit her points of vulnerability, primarily her support for the authorization of the Iraq War, and the "troop surge strategy" in Afghanistan, as well as her ties to Wall Street. Schweitzer would fit that bill. He is a critic of the fundamental direction of U.S. foreign policy, opposes the War in Iraq, and calls for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He is also a vociferous critic of the Wall Street influence on the body politic. In addition, Schweitzer supports single-payer not-for-profit healthcare which is wildly popular with the Democrat base.
Schweitzer has the enviable ability to consolidate Democratic voters who have grown disenchanted with the Democratic Party's establishment faction and he could very well attract Libertarian-oriented Independent voters in open primary states. Schweitzer can marinate this populist anti-establishment message with charisma and a folksy rural persona. A one-on-one contest with Brian Schweitzer would exploit and highlight Hillary's vulnerabilities and could become her worst-case electoral scenario.