Bullock run in Mont. gives Democrats hope of Senate takeover

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, March 9, 2020

Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines for his Senate seat.

Bullock, who briefly ran for president last year before dropping out, announced his campaign today, which is the filing deadline in the state.

“As governor, I’ve worked my level best to represent all Montanans and leave this place we call home better than I found it, and in a time when our politics is more divided than ever, we’ve been able to accomplish a great deal for the people of our state,” Bullock said in a statement.

“We can’t say the same about Washington, where they can’t tackle the difficult challenges like health care costs, climate change and a changing economy or even the ones we agree on like strengthening our infrastructure, lowering drug prices and banning dark money from our federal elections.”

Bullock had steadfastly rejected the idea of running for the Senate. But former President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke to him and convinced him otherwise, The New York Times reportedlast week.

Daines locked onto that reporting to criticize his opponent last week, after the Times reported that Bullock’s entrance was forthcoming.

“He was a no until Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer convinced him to be a yes. Those are the last two people that Montanans would ever go to if they’re seeking advice for an important decision,” Daines told E&E News in a brief interview in the U.S. Capitol.

“We are very ready, and we’re looking forward to a very strong campaign from our side,” he said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports Daines, also castigated Bullock for bowing to pressure from leading Democrats.

“Steve Bullock ran his administration like a frat house and acquiesced to the far left during his comical presidential run, not exactly the strongest way to launch a Senate campaign,” NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand said in a statement.

“Bullock supported impeaching President Trump, wants to ban guns and ignore illegal immigration. One can see why, given their visceral disdain for the Montana way of life, Washington Democrats rolled out the red carpet for Bullock,” he continued.

Bullock is the first major Democrat to enter the race in a mostly conservative state that nonetheless has major Democratic forces, as evidenced in part by Bullock’s two gubernatorial wins.

Democrats are hoping to flip the Senate majority away from Republicans, who hold 53 of its 100 seats. Montana could go a long way toward that goal.

Public lands

The race is likely to bring significant attention to public lands issues.

Daines can claim victory in his quest for protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund. President Trump mentioned him and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in a recent tweet, and the Senate is moving to take up legislation (E&E Daily, March 5).

Daines is also a supporter of fossil fuel extraction on public land. The state ranks No. 6 in the country in coal production.

Conservationists have boosted their criticism of Daines since the election cycle started last year, including with big advertising campaigns.

Montana Conservation Voters, for one, launched a campaign criticizing Daines’ “less than full” support for public lands.

Bullock is also an outspoken supporter of conservation and protecting public lands. A video his campaign posted to Twitter announcing his Senate run included a clip of him speaking at a rally last year on the issue.

“And you know what’s great, every one of us owns these public lands,” he said in the clip, to cheers from supporters.

Bullock bucked much of the field of Democratic presidential candidates last year by declining to support the Green New Deal, and he spoke frequently about the need to support industries important to Montana like fossil fuels and forestry.

Leans Republican

Bullock’s filing spurred election watchers to change their forecasts of the race, though Daines is still favored to win.

The Cook Political Report now rates it “Lean Republican,” a shift from the previous “Solid Republican,” and Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved it to “Leans Republican” from “Likely Republican.”

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a project led by University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, said Bullock’s entrance also increases Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate.

“I still think that state is hard for a Democrat but not as much as the presidential top line would indicate,” said Kondik, a reference to Trump winning Montana by 20 points in 2016.

Kondik said Bullock has been a “reasonably popular” governor, who notably won his second term the same year Trump easily won the state.

He said Daines has no “obvious problems” heading into his first reelection, but one could emerge if a libertarian candidate runs in the general election and potentially siphons votes away from him.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.