For about 40 minutes, Bullock fielded questions from Iowans on a range of issues taking him outside the messages he's focused on in meet-and-greets around the state that holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses next February.
While Bullock has focused on his appeal as a Democrat who won reelection in a state Trump took decisively in 2016, that didn't come up at all in the broadcast on WHO-TV in Des Moines, and he was only briefly able to work in the decade he's devoted to shining a light on dark money in politics.
Instead, he fielded questions about things like reparations for slavery, climate change, the cost of health care and teacher pay, giving answers that provided a glimpse into ways he said he would start to address problems, with more specificity in some areas than others.
In addition to Wednesday's event and earlier meet-and-greets around Des Moines, Bullock will hold a town hall Thursday in New Hampshire, another state that's important in the early narrowing of what is a field of two dozen Democrats running to be the party's nominee for president. The blitz is Bullock's response to missing the cut for the first Democratic National Committee's debates. Twenty other candidates will take the stage, split between Wednesday and Thursday nights, in Miami, Florida.
Bullock's campaign cried foul when the DNC changed which criteria would be used to qualify to appear in the debates, eliminating one of the polls he used to qualify. Bullock did not register at least 1% support in enough polls or meet a 65,000-donor threshold. The campaign argued the rule change penalized Bullock for entering the race later than other candidates. He waited until May 14, after the Montana state Legislature adjourned, to officially jump in.
Montana political analyst Lee Banville said earlier this month missing the first debates would hurt Bullock.
“The debate decision is a blow to his nationwide name recognition,” Banville said. “He’s going to have to work harder if he’s not on the debate stage.”
On Wednesday that meant the town hall, where he was asked about how he would address immigration if elected president.
Bullock tapped his time as head of the National Governors Association in his answer, saying he had met with women who had been in a caravan of migrants while in Mexico attending the country's presidential inauguration. Bullock then said there should be protections for people who were brought to the United States as children and lived here their whole lives, commonly known as "DREAMers," and that he supports a path to citizenship for those in the country without documentation. He didn't give a specific number for what he felt was the right amount of refugees to let into U.S., saying it depended on the number of people seeking asylum.
Bullock didn't directly answer a question about his thoughts on specific legislation before Congress on reparations, but did say he instead favored "addressing each of the specific places where historically and to contemporary, we see significant disparities."
"A payment would only last one individual or one generation," Bullock said. "We need to make sure that we can do everything so that all of the subsequent generations aren't dealing with these challenges."
Bullock also said college should be more affordable and the federal government could take actions to make student loans easier to repay, by lowering interest rates on debt it holds or easing the path to help employers offer loan payment assistance. He stopped short of going as far as other candidates, like Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has proposed to eliminate nearly all student loan debt.
"I don't know that the right answer is just to forgive everyone's student loans," Bullock said.
Also Wednesday, the chair of the Story County Democrats in Iowa said she was endorsing Bullock. Politico called it a "high-profile win," saying Jan Bauer is a well-known name that carries sway with caucuses. She joins Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is also backing the Montana governor.