Altoona, Iowa (CNN) – Brian Schweitzer, a former Montana governor and self-styled prairie populist who wants to be part of the Democratic presidential conversation for 2016, drew a bright line between himself and presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton on Wednesday by raising an topic that has largely faded from the political spotlight amid rising economic anxiety: the Iraq War.
In a speech to Iowa Democrats in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona, and in remarks to reporters, Schweitzer repeatedly chided Senate Democrats who voted in 2002 to green light military action in Iraq.
Clinton, then a senator from New York, voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, a decision that badly damaged her credibility
with the Democratic base and allowed Barack Obama to win over anti-war liberals in their 2008 nomination fight.
“Anybody who runs in this cycle, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, if they were the United States Senate and they voted with
George Bush to go to Iraq when I would say about 98 percent of America knows that it was a folly, that it was a waste of treasure and blood,
and if they voted to go to Iraq there will be questions for them on the left and from the right,” he told CNN.
Later, in his remarks to a holiday party organized by the liberal group Progress Iowa, Schweitzer asked the roughly 70 audience members
to keep the Iraq war vote in mind as they begin to think about potential candidates passing through the state.
“When George Bush got a bunch of Dems to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said, noting that he opposed the war
(though he didn’t have to vote on it). “I’m asking you to pick the leaders who aren’t going to make those mistakes.”
Schweitzer was reluctant to mention the former Secretary of State by name, but the target of his comments, delivered in the
first-in-the-nation caucus state that derailed Clinton’s candidacy almost six years ago, was unmistakable.
In recent interviews, with The Weekly Standard and RealClearPolitics, he has urged Democrats not to give Clinton a free pass to the
nomination in 2016. And asked after the speech who he had in mind when raising the Iraq issue, Schweitzer said “presidential candidates.”
Schweitzer, though, insisted he wasn’t attacking the presumed frontrunner.
“The point is that this is an election not a coronation,” Schweitzer said. “It’s been a long time since we have had coronations in his
country. Democrats are always excited about tomorrow and we always want to know what the future is. We don’t want to talk about the past.
We want to talk about the future. We want to know that the people that we elect will move America forward, not move us in reverse.”
To observers of his sometimes-haphazard speech, which also touched on education and prison reform, along with transparently folksy
Midwestern nods to cattle and 4H, his Iraq observations seemed somewhat dated.
“Are you tweeting from 2004?” one Twitter user wrote to a reporter covering the speech.
“The foreign policy stuff was good,” said Matt Sinovic, the director of Progress Iowa. “It was good, just unexpected.”