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This week Gov. Brian Schweitzer finally, officially, went bigtime. There was Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes Sunday evening, unable to avoid sidelong references to the governor’s dog-and-Saudis-suck “schtick” even as she offered him a prime-time platform from which to proselytize his Big Idea: basically to peel back the surface of eastern Montana, take all the coal out, and liquefy it into diesel so sweet even Stahl can bear to huff the stuff raw.

The same Sunday he made his 60 Minutes debut, Schweitzer attended a White House dinner in Washington, D.C., where he’s in town for the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association. On Monday, he gave a speech to the left-leaning Center for American Politics, claiming for Montana’s most recent Legislature “the most progressive agenda in America.”

While in the belly of the D.C. beast, he candidly and decisively critiqued the Bush administration’s foreign policy, and as if to emphasize the point that the nation is listening, Schweitzer was recently invited by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to attend a Democratic congressional retreat near Williamsburg, Va. There, Lee Newspapers has reported, the governor—his dog Jag doubtless at his side—“presented his vision for the party.”

Vision is something his party could use. Democrats seem finally to have recognized that they can’t just sit there and get elected; they have to offer something appealing in exchange for Americans’ votes. But most Democrats still haven’t gotten around to figuring out what that something might be. Into that void steps Schweitzer, Montana’s straight-talking (he ballsily reserved “straight-shooting” to describe Vice President Dick Cheney) man with a plan.

“…look, we have a plan for producing energy here that will create tens of thousands of jobs,” Schweitzer told the Democrats. “We have a plan to invest in education so that we will create the engineers of tomorrow. That is hope and opportunity.”

So it is. And that’s why a lot of people can’t help but suspect that Schweitzer, despite his wise-at-this-point protestations, could sooner or later end up gunning for national office. At that juncture, his fewer-than-a-million constituents will become more or less irrelevant. His “schtick,” and what’s bound by then to be Montana’s weariness with it, will be thoroughly beside the point. Schweitzer will be an export by then, like the idea of trout and anti-meth ads, a natural resource Montana will have to share with the rest of the country.

What the rest of the country chooses to do with him should be interesting to see.

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