01/06/2014 07:37 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Brian Schweitzer Emerges As Media's Hillary Clinton Challenger Of The Moment


NEW YORK -- ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos got his turn on Sunday. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski asked Monday morning. And CNN’s Brooke Baldwin took a shot Monday afternoon.

All lobbed the question that former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is sure to get again and again: Will he challenge presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary campaign?

Schweitzer signaled to all three TV hosts that he’s considering running, an acknowledgement that helped fuel even more speculation over the past 24 hours that the ex-governor may make a populist run against the establishment favorite.

The news media has long been biased toward conflict. And so the notion of an inevitable Democratic candidate coasting toward coronation as the party's presidential nominee is likely the least-desired scenario for journalists eager to cover a race.

Schweitzer has done his part to drum up media speculation over a 2016 run, announcing plans last month to visit all 99 counties in Iowa. And he's provided headline-grabbing conflict, recently criticizing Obamacare as too conciliatory to pharmaceutical companies. He's also taking aim at the war in Afghanistan (which President Barack Obama escalated), and the invasion of Iraq (which Clinton supported).

Schweitzer spoke to Slate's Dave Weigel over the weekend, with the interview published between the former governor's appearances on MSNBC and CNN. In that interview, Schweitzer said the government "ought to grant" clemency to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- a view clearly at odds with the Obama White House.

How Schweitzer differs from Obama and how he would match against Clinton, if such a race were to actually happen, came up in all three TV interviews. "Would you be left of Hillary Clinton or right of Hillary Clinton?” Baldwin asked Monday afternoon. “Probably both,” Schweitzer replied.

Though the 2016 campaign is years away, the political media has dived head first into the race -- or at least the theoretical race.

Clinton, whose “shadow campaign” was pried open by Politico’s Maggie Haberman on Sunday night, hasn’t declared she’s running. Nor have the presumed Republican contenders.

On the Republican side, possible candidates include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Ted Cruz (Texas), and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). Mike Huckabee, who vied for the 2008 nomination, told The New York Times last month he’s considering a run, too.

The media should have a wide-open Republican race to cover, as was the case in 2012 -- a cycle that boasted 20 primary debates. But on the Democratic side, the media seems intent on finding someone who might challenge Clinton.

In November, The New Republic got the chattering class talking with a cover story suggesting that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would run against Clinton from the left. (In 2005, The New Republic questioned whether Russ Feingold would challenge "presumed Democratic front-runner" Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.) Warren said after The New Republic story was published that she is not running in 2016.

Political journalists and pundits have given some oxygen to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as potential 2016 Democratic challengers, but neither has recently staked out positions straying as far from Clinton and Obama as Schweitzer has.

And Dean has been in this position before, with Politico's Roger Simon suggesting in 2010 that the 2004 Democratic hopeful could possibly challenge Obama in 2012 primary. That theoretical Dean-Obama matchup, however, never materialized.



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