HELENA — When you ask Wilsall rancher and attorney and U.S. Senate candidate Dirk Adams why he’s a Democrat, he says it’s because he’s conservative.
“That means, on the social issues, I think the government ought to just leave people alone,” he says. “Whether it has to do with women’s health, or who you fall in love with or whether you like guns, (the government) ought to just leave us alone.
“I think Democrats have been better at just leaving people alone, at recognizing their independence.”
Adams, 62, kicked off his dark-horse campaign Saturday evening at a community dinner in Wilsall, where he and his wife, Miki, own the general store and operate a 12,000-acre ranch that produces cattle, pigs, sheep, chicken and turkeys.
Adams, who has never sought political office before, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated next year by Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat retiring after 36 years on the job.
So far, he’s one of three Democrats vying for the job, including Lt. Gov. John Walsh and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger.
Adams is not well-known by Montana voters, but said in an interview he has hired an experienced campaign team and that he’ll be working hard to acquaint himself with the public.
“This is a serious operation,” he said. “I’m going to reach out to the voters. This is like a job interview, and I’m going to show that I’m the best candidate for the job.”
Adams said he’s the best person to take on and defeat Republican Steve Daines, Montana’s congressman and the likely Republican nominee in the Senate race.
Daines represents the far-right strain of the Republican Party, and “I just don’t think Montana is that extreme,” Adams said. “I’m quite prepared to take it to Steve in a very serious way.”
Two other Republicans also are in the race: State Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula and Kalispell air traffic manager David Leaser.
Adams went to high school and college in Texas and earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1976. He said he vacationed often in Montana, taught briefly at the University of Montana and researched where he wanted to start a ranch, choosing the Shields Valley north of Livingston.
He said he started in 1984 with three cows and 160 acres, and gradually expanded the operation while also working as an attorney and a banking executive, mostly in California.
Adams said that if Baucus had run for re-election or if popular former Gov. Brian Schweitzer had chosen to run for the seat, he wouldn’t have jumped in.
But with no prominent Democrat stepping forward, Adams said, he decided he had the right “skill set” that a senator needs: “To be creative, to know how to ask questions, to be a great negotiator. I have just a ton of experience in that area.”
Adams worked as a trial attorney in New York before going into banking in the early 1980s. He said he no longer sits on the board of any banks.
“I decided to run because I was disgusted by what was going on in Washington and their inability to get anything done,” he said. “As a rancher, I know how to get things done, because if you don’t get things done, the animals die.”
Adams said he’ll be talking about his ideas on creating jobs, particularly in agriculture, and boosting education, as well as ways to improve health care reform.
“Everybody has been frustrated and embarrassed about the (rollout of the) Affordable Care Act,” he said. “I think candidates are going to have to talk about how they’ll clean that up.”
He also said that Montana Democrats can easily point to their success on economic issues, noting that Schweitzer and Gov. Steve Bullock have balanced the state budget, kept taxes in check, invested in education and maintained healthy budget surpluses.