Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was in corn country last week, cultivating his long shot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to a Bullock for President news release, the governor was scheduled for meet and greets in eight Iowa counties in three days, making his seventh visit to the state that holds the earliest 2020 primary contest.
The national publicity bump Bullock got for announcing on Tuesday as the 22nd Democratic candidate was soon eclipsed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio becoming primary candidate No. 23 on Thursday. De Blasio has 8.3 million constituents — eight times the population of Montana. Are there 8 million Americans who know who Steve Bullock is?
It's hard to stand out in such a crowded field — despite being being Montana's two-term governor and the only Democratic governor elected in a red state in 2016.
A Washington Post columnist opined that Bullock's best hope may be for former Vice President Joe Biden to stumble. Biden, named the Democratic front runner in recent polls, has staked out the moderate territory that Bullock and most of the other announced candidates also claim.
Bullock does have a key supporter on the Iowa campaign trail. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who has been in office for 37 years, endorsed Bullock, who served four years as Montana AG before being elected governor. Miller was scheduled to campaign with Bullock at a brewery in Des Moines, coffee houses in Newton and Independence, a tribal community in Tama and several stops along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa.
Logically, our term-limited governor should be considering a challenge to Sen. Steve Daines whose first six-year U.S. Senate term ends in January 2021. So far only first-term Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins has announced a bid for the Democratic nomination to run against Daines next year. Montanans have already elected Bullock to statewide office three times in 12 years. His chances on a Senate bid look a lot better than on a White House run.
Bullock said his first priority as president would be "to break the leash that dark money and corporate money has on the political system. Everything else can't be addressed until we can do that," he said in an interview with Lee Montana Newspapers. "When we start to curb the incidence of outside money in campaigns, it will make everything easier."
As attorney general, Bullock defended Montana's century-old corrupt practices act that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court under the Citizens United decision, flooding elections with third-party spending. As governor, Bullock championed campaign finance disclosure and got bipartisan support for a tougher law that now allows the public to search online to find out who is spending what to influence Montana elections.
In pursuit of information about secretive political spenders, Montana became the first state to sue the IRS when the agency stopped requiring certain tax-exempt organizations to report their major donors. New Jersey joined the lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Helena.
Bullock recently signed a new state law banning foreign individuals and entities from contributing to Montana election campaigns.
We have applauded Bullock's campaigns against dark money, but it will be harder to wage a national campaign against it.
We expect Bullock to keep doing his job of governing Montana while he is on the hunt for votes in Iowa and elsewhere. He should strive to boost Montana’s image nationally.