HELENA — Democratic state Sen. Larry Jent said Thursday he’s shutting down his campaign for governor, leaving Attorney General Steve Bullock as the lone announced Democrat for the post.
Jent had not filed for office yet with the secretary of state’s office, nor has Bullock, who has until Monday to do so.
Bullock, however, is certain to run, announcing Thursday that Brig. Gen. John Walsh will be his running mate. Five of the seven announced Republican candidates for governor had filed by Thursday.
If no other Democrat files by 5 p.m. Monday, Bullock may have to return thousands of dollars in campaign funds that he’s already received.
In Montana, candidates can raise money for both the primary and general election, but only if they face opposition in the primary election.
If they have opposition in both cycles, they can accept up to $1,260 from a single donor. If they have no primary opponent, the limit is $630 per donor. If Bullock has no primary opponent, he’d have to return any amount beyond $630 he accepted from a single donor.
Asked about the possibility of Bullock having to surrender some campaign money, campaign manager Kevin O’Brien said it’s “premature” to comment before the filing deadline.
In 2008, candidates surfaced at the last minute against Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the Democratic primary race and Roy Brown in the Republican primary. As a result, neither had to forfeit any additional primary election money they had raised.
None of the 11th-hour candidates mounted campaigns after filing, leading to speculation by some that supporters of Schweitzer and Brown, or their political parties, recruited token candidates to prevent the top candidates from having to return donations. All of the candidates denied such a plot.
In leaving the race, Jent endorsed Bullock, saying the only issue they disagreed on was which of them should be the next governor.
“It was not the right time for me,” Jent said. “I got a very, very late start. Steve’s early fundraising gave him the air of inevitability.
“It wouldn’t be the right thing (for me) to ask volunteers and contributors for more effort when the primary race has been decided.”
Through Dec. 31, Bullock had raised nearly $550,000 for governor and had $280,000 in the bank, while Jent had raised nearly $33,000 and reported $7,000 remaining.
Jent said his final report to be filed Monday will show he raised nearly $50,000, with the lion’s share coming from his home county of Gallatin.
O’Brien complimented Jent, saying he has “served Montana and this country admirably and Attorney General Bullock and Gen. Walsh look forward to working with him.”
Jent said he regretted that he and Bullock rarely appeared together at political events to debate their ideas for governor, while GOP candidates did.
“I enjoyed discussing my Democratic vision for Montana with my Republican friends whenever I had the chance, whether it was on radio or at forums,” he said.
Jent said he looks forward to working on pension and election issues as a state senator in 2013, including trying to come up with a new model for the state political practices office.
He praised Bullock for his work defending Montana’s 1912 voter-passed law that prohibits corporations from making independent expenditures for or against candidates. Although the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law, some groups are trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision.