Montana Gov. Steve Bullock joins 2020 Democratic presidential race
HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced Tuesday that he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, distinguishing himself among nearly two dozen candidates as the field's only statewide elected official to win a state that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
The 53-year-old governor is running as a centrist Democrat who has advanced party values while navigating a Republican legislature and a GOP-leaning electorate. Bullock made his candidacy official in a video that capped months of speculation fueled by his political activity in Iowa, which hosts the nation's first presidential caucus next February. He plans to address supporters later Tuesday in the state capital, Helena, where he grew up not far from the governor's mansion.
"What we need to do is get the country back on track, make sure everybody has a fair shot at success," he told The Associated Press in an interview before launching his campaign via online video. "I've been able to get meaningful things done that impact the people of my state. I believe there'll be a strong reception for that."
His immediate challenge is corralling enough donors and support in the polls to qualify for the first Democratic debate in June. More broadly, as a white Trump-state Democrat, Bullock could face an uphill battle to break through in a primary that has been defined by former Vice President Joe Biden's dominance and the progressive energy of a diverse party base.
Bullock plans a two-tiered argument.
He pitches himself as the rare Democrat who can win over rural and small-town voters — a constituency that helped Trump flip key battleground states in 2016. Bullock has done it three times in Montana, where Democrat Hillary Clinton got just 36 percent of the vote against Trump.
"We need somebody who can win back some of these places we lost in '16," Bullock said, adding, "Voters want somebody that they believe can win, that will fight for them."
Yet Bullock emphasizes that he governs with mainstream Democratic priorities. He has expanded Medicaid insurance coverage to nearly a tenth of Montana's 1.06 million residents as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and embraced marriage equality for same-sex couples. He's used executive orders to extend LGBTQ rights and protect net neutrality, and he's vetoed gun bills backed by the National Rifle Association and measures that would have severely limited abortion access.
He also has spent years advocating for tighter regulation of money in politics, unsuccessfully challenging the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling as attorney general and then, as governor, signing a Montana law that requires dark money groups operating in the state to disclose their donors. Last year, he sued the Internal Revenue Service over a Trump administration rule change to stop requiring the disclosure of donor information from certain nonprofit organizations.
He's aligned himself with conservationists, environmental activists and outdoorsmen by prioritizing public land use and conservation — a key issue in many Western states and one that has helped him draw distinctions with some of his Republican opponents. But he's also been at odds with them at times as the leader of an energy-producing state, such as when he criticized the Obama administration for "moving the goalposts" by proposing stringent carbon dioxide emission reductions under the now-defunct Clean Power Plan.
His time in office has largely been scandal-free, with the occasional hiccup. Earlier this year, Bullock apologized for not doing enough to warn others about a longtime aide of his who was accused of sexually harassing women while working first for the Democratic Governors Association while Bullock was chairman and later for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration.