Democratic Governor Steve Bullock of Montana jumped into the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday, touting his ability to work with Republicans and promising to make campaign finance reform a signature issue.
Bullock, 53, won re-election in conservative Montana in 2016, making him the only candidate of the more than 20 major Democratic presidential contenders to win statewide election in a state that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
“There’s only one person in the field that’s actually won in a state that Donald Trump won, and there’s only one that’s gotten progressive things done in governing a state that’s controlled by Republicans,” Bullock said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday after announcing his bid.
Wearing jeans and cowboy boots in a campaign office so new there were no signs outside, Bullock called for an end to so-called dark money political contributions and touted the state’s expansion of Medicaid on his watch.
“I think we can both defeat Donald Trump and get this country working again,” he said.
Still a relative unknown nationally, Bullock has barely registered in opinion polls and will face a stiff challenge competing with the support and fundraising ability of higher-profile party rivals such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Bullock presents himself as a potential unifier in a party torn between those who prefer a pragmatist who can appeal to moderates and independents, and those who want a fresh face who can energize the party’s increasingly diverse and left-leaning voters.
Charismatic and telegenic, he talks about Democratic issues without using buzzwords that might be inflammatory to Republicans. For example, in discussing healthcare, he says Trump has worked to “destabilize” care for millions, but does not mention the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
He favors a public option under which consumers could pay into the federal Medicare or Medicaid healthcare programs, but has not jumped on the Medicare-for-All bandwagon, as have some of his rivals.
Bullock pointed to his successes as governor in Montana, where Republicans control the state legislature, and his ability to forge compromises on bills to expand Medicaid, increase campaign finance disclosures, bolster pay equity for women and protect public lands.
“As a Democratic governor of a state that Trump won by 20 (percentage) points, I don’t have the luxury of just talking to people who agree with me,” Bullock said in a video announcement of his candidacy.
He has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his agenda as governor, filing a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service in 2018 over its decision to loosen disclosure requirements for “dark money” groups that under federal law do not have to disclose donors. A court hearing is scheduled in June.
Bullock also signed an executive order requiring many state government contractors to report political donations, including those to such groups, and worked with members of both parties to pass a bill requiring disclosure of donors to independent groups spending money on state-level elections.
Bullock hired veteran Democratic operative Jenn Ridder, who ran Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ successful campaign in 2018, as his campaign manager. He also announced the hiring of top communications and Iowa state staffers as he launched his bid.
The son of a single mother, Bullock worked his way through college and took out loans to finish law school. He served as Montana’s attorney general before being elected to his first term as governor in 2012.
When he won re-election in 2016, he captured 13 counties in Montana, more than twice the number Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried.
He has traveled frequently to early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire in the last year to lay the groundwork for a campaign, but he had promised to wait until Montana’s legislative session ended to make his plans for the White House known. The Montana legislature adjourned in late April.
(Additional reporting and writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)