It's no secret that locals love Missoula Mayor John Engen, and the affable former councilman is clearly good at his job—he's consistently built consensus on contentious issues, commands a room with his self-deprecating brand of humor and doesn't seem to be the type to get caught hiking the Appalachian Trail anytime soon. So with such a solid foundation, what are Engen's aspirations beyond his current position? The rumblings started as soon as Engen, who is currently up for re-election without an opponent, hosted his first campaign fundraiser—in Helena. Engen's friend, Attorney General Steve Bullock, helped arrange the March event, which brought in $3,100, as well as a whole slew of speculation along the lines of, "Why launch a Missoula mayoral campaign in the state capital?" The mayor downplayed any significance, but the speculation continued when Engen hosted a Missoula fundraiser last month that included a special guest—current White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. Engen was an early supporter of Messina's current boss, and introduced Barack Obama during a Missoula campaign stop, but Messina's presence at a backyard event still sent a strong message. Many armchair pundits believe Engen, like a whole army of other Democrats, may be laying some groundwork for 2012, when Gov. Brian Schweitzer's term runs out. Those same pundits, however, add that it'd be nearly impossible for the mayor of Montana's most liberal city to win a statewide election, and think Engen's angling for lieutenant governor. And who would be at the top of the ticket? Well, just last week Engen floated the restored Clark Fork River with Schweitzer and good friend Bullock. Considering Bullock already won a statewide election—and by a significant margin—could they be a match? Let the speculation continue.
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