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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bullock Says Bipartisan Appeal Can Carry Him To The White House

Gov. Steve Bullock announces his candidacy for president in Helena, Mont., May 14, 2019.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Gov. Steve Bullock announces his candidacy for president in Helena, Mont., May 14, 2019.

In the hours after Gov. Steve Bullock announced his candidacy for president in 2020 in an early morning video release on YouTube he met with local press outlets near downtown Helena in a half empty first floor office space — his new campaign headquarters.

"I’m excited about this next adventure," Bullock said. "I think that what we’ve done in Montana, both electorally and in getting government to work, is something that a lot of people can learn from.”

Bullock wore his familiar Montana get-out-the-vote outfit: cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a collared blue shirt under a dark blazer.

The two-term governor says his reelection in a rural state makes him stand out in the crowded field of Democrats all competing to take on Donald Trump in 2020.

Under the “Who the heck is Steve Bullock” section of his new website, Bullock describes himself as the only Democrat who has won in a Trump state. Bullock won reelection in 2016 by four percentage points when Trump won the state by 20 points.

However, the “Who the heck is Steve Bullock” question, which some Americans watching Tuesday’s news cycle may be be asking, is something Montana’s governor will have to overcome if wants more than an outside shot at the presidency.

"I wouldn’t be getting into it, like, this isn’t for me a vanity project. I wouldn't be getting into it if I didn’t have something really significant to offer,” he says.

According to an analysis from Politico, Bullock has met the Democratic National Committee’s criteria to join his competition on a nationally-televised stage for the party’s debates. Those debates start in late June.

But as of the day he officially announced a campaign that’s been widely expected following recent visits to Iowa, Bullock is barely showing up on national polls.

After the morning sit-down with local press Bullock went on courting national media.

By early afternoon, camera crews from CNN, Fox, and NBC packed into a Helena High School science classroom waiting for Bullock to deliver his first presidential stump speech.

Two dozen students filled the desks in front of the cameras as Bullock was introduced by a fellow graduate from Helena High, and then his wife, Lisa.

“I know Steve’s decision today is genuinely grounded in making this country a better place,” Lisa Bullock said.

In front of the national media spotlights Bullock said he initially thought about calling it quits on elected public life after a second term as governor.

"But what we’re experiencing now in this country compelled us to ask whether that there was more that we could contribute. Fundamentally we’ve reached, I think, a dangerous place in this 243-year experiment that we call representative democracy. Far to many people no longer think that they have as good a shot as their parents did."

National media reporters asked Bullock why he would run for president and not the U.S. Senate, challenging Republican Steve Daines in 2020 — a question he’s also faced from Montana constituents and reporters.

Bullock says he could do more as a government executive than as a lawmaker.

National reporters also asked the governor how he plans to stand out among the more than 20 Democratic presidential candidates on issues like gun control and climate change. Bullock is more moderate than many of the more left-leaning candidates he’ll face within his own party.

He says he has been able to reach compromises being the governor of a conservative state, but new policies need to be put in place.

Throughout Bullock’s first day on the campaign trail he kept highlighting his work on campaign finance reform and targeting dark money in politics.

Bullock will take his campaign message on the road to Iowa later this week for a three day swing through the early battleground state.

It’s unclear how much time Bullock will spend away from Montana as he campaigns. He says it won’t interfere with his job as governor.

"No, I expect to be actively daily engaged in both the running of my office and the issues that come up in all the agencies, just like I have for the last six and a half years."

Bullock has hired campaign staff focused on the Iowa caucus.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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