ALTOONA, Iowa (AP) — Former Democratic Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer isn't saying whether he'll run for president in 2016. But he sought to connect with Iowa voters Wednesday night with a speech that touched on his rural roots, passion for education and his opposition to the Iraq War.
Schweitzer, who served as governor from 2005 through early 2013, spoke in front of about 100 people at an event hosted by a liberal advocacy group. While the popular, outspoken ex-governor has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, he did not directly mention the 2016 election during his remarks, though he did express concerns about further military conflict in the Middle East.
"The reason I'm in Iowa in part is because I'm asking you to pick the leaders that are going to say we're not going to make those mistakes," Schweitzer said during the keynote address at the 2013 Progress Iowa Holiday Party.
After his speech. Schweitzer auctioned off his bolo tie, belt buckle and a children's book about his dog to raise nearly $800 for the group.
Iowa is expected to be the leadoff nominating caucuses ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Schweitzer told The Associated Press in a phone interview this week that he has not made any decisions about the race.
"That's a long ways out. I've got a lot of things I'm doing. I'm enjoying being away from politics for a little while," said Schweitzer, 58.
But he noted that his rural roots may appeal to Iowa voters: "If I did run for president, I'd be the first one who came to Iowa who could tell you how many kernels of corn to plant per acre."
Visits to Iowa from Democrats eyeing the presidential race have been sparse this year, with many hopefuls watching to see whether Hillary Clinton decides to run. The former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state would be the leading contender for the Democratic nomination.
But Iowa Democrats said that even if Clinton runs, voters will want to consider their options, possibly providing an opening for someone like Schweitzer, who has little name recognition in the state.
"Secretary Clinton is obviously very popular among Iowa Democrats. But at the same time, Iowa Democrats I can't imagine are looking for a coronation," Democratic political consultant Jeff Link said.
Schweitzer, who decided against running for an open Senate seat in Montana in 2014, was recently elected board chairman of Stillwater Mining Co., Montana's largest publicly traded company.
A Democrat from a conservative state, Schweitzer is known for his colorful style and a can-do attitude. He successfully got budget bills passed by a Republican legislature, touted Montana tourism on late-night television and tried to rally crowds around issues such as energy independence.
"Democrats, they're not good with money. I'm a hybrid. I've demonstrated that I can challenge expenses. I'll run government like a small business," Schweitzer said during Monday's phone interview.
In Wednesday's speech, he spoke about reducing the prison population in Montana and making investments in education.
Former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said Schweitzer would appeal to Iowa Democrats.
"He's super engaging, he's super entertaining and he lives agriculture issues," Dvorsky said.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Iowa in September, and a number of potential Republican presidential candidates have held events here this year.