In September 2008, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) boasted to a gathering of trial lawyers in Philadelphia that he had used bullying and intimidation to elect Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in 2006 in a close race that helped Harry Reid and the Democrats seize control of Congress's upper chamber.
An audio recording of his speech was released on the Internet, and Schweitzer promptly asserted that he had been joking. Attorney General Mike McGrath, a fellow Democrat, declined to investigate.
Now, however, a video of Schweitzer's speech has emerged--and makes clear that while the audience was oddly--and alarmingly--gleeful, Gov. Schweitzer was not joking but delivering an impassioned political oration, not a comedy routine, meant to rouse a partisan audience ahead of the 2008 elections..
That, in turn, raises questions about what Sen. Tester knew, and whether his 2006 election was legitimate.
Portions of the video have been published by "Badger Pundit" on YouTube, together with remarks made in July 2012 by Gov. Schweitzer about his state, in which he describes Montanans as racist. He is also shown at events with Sen. Tester.
Gov. Schweitzer makes two sensational claims about Sen. Tester's extremely narrow 2006 victory: one, that he had encouraged tribal police to frighten Republican poll watchers off Indian reservations; and two, that he had bullied the county clerk in heavily Democratic Butte-Silver Bow County into delaying the reporting of final vote totals until votes in Republican counties had been reported, so that he could stage the announcement of the results in a way that would help avoid a recount.
As the San Francisco Chronicle noted yesterday, the Native American vote, which leans heavily Democratic, had been critical to handing Tester a victory in 2006. Today, Sen. Tester faces a strong challenge from Republican Rep. Denny Rehburg, who leads by less than one percent in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average.
In addition to boasting about using underhanded tactics, Gov. Schweitzer indicated that he had encouraged the Associated Press to call the election early for Tester. (The AP subsequently denied any undue influence.)
Gov. Schweitzer has never claimed that his remarks were taken out of context, or that the audio recording of his speech was selectively edited or spliced. Having lived down the controversy, he now has returned to the campaign trail--though, to the surprise of some observers, he is keeping some distance from the Tester campaign, despite the fact that Gov. Schweitzer and Sen. Tester are close allies, and the U.S. Senate is at stake.
Liberals reject claims by conservatives that voter fraud is a real threat to the integrity of the ballot. Yet the behavior proudly described by Gov. Schweitzer to a sympathetic audience of attorneys is exactly what conservatives are worried about.
The fact that Gov. Schweitzer and Sen. Tester escaped any investigation in 2006, and that the race is so close again in 2012, with so much hanging in the balance, together suggest that dirty tricks and intimidation could again be a threat in the Montana race, and that the polls must be watched closely for fraud.
Photo credit: Paul Hosefros / The New York Times