Montana Gov. Steve Bullock files to run for U.S. Senate while his family looks on. Pictured in the background, from left to right, are daughters Caroline and Alexandria, wife Lisa, and son Cameron. Photo: John S. Adams / Montana Free Press
HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock filed earlier this month to challenge Sen. Steve Daines for his seat in the U.S. Senate, giving the incumbent Republican a daunting opponent in a race that could help decide which party controls the Senate following the 2020 elections.
Bullock’s candidacy, announced on the state’s March 9 filing deadline, also means liberal and conservative interest groups will likely inject millions of dollars in political spending into Montana’s 2020 elections.
In his announcement, Bullock touted bi-partisan economic development, health care, and campaign finance reform passed through the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature and signed into law during his two terms as governor.
“Even at a time of chaos and division, Democrats and Republicans have worked with each other and actually gotten some good stuff done,” he said. “I wish that Washington worked more like Montana. You look at some big challenges we’re facing and they won’t even tackle them.”
With Bullock’s name recognition, resume, and fundraising ability eclipsing other primary candidates, most of the other Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in Montana’s June 2 primary election exited the race in recent days.
Josh Seckinger, a Bozeman fly fishing guide, withdrew even before the official announcement, as rumors of Bullock’s candidacy circulated over the weekend. Nonprofit founder Cora Neumann of Bozeman announced she was dropping out within hours of the announcement, as did Bozeman resident Michael Knoles and Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins. Seckinger, Neumann, and Collins endorsed Bullock.
Energy engineer John Mues, however, said he would continue his campaign, and that he hopes to meet Bullock on primary debate stages.
“The U.S. Senate has a lot of attorneys and a lot of career politicians,” Mues said. “And it’s never been more dysfunctional.”
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Daines, a former tech company executive from Bozeman who is closing out his freshman Senate term, faces two Republican primary challengers: Dan Larson of Stevensville, and John Driscoll, a former Democratic lawmaker from Helena who has twice run for the U.S. House as a Democrat. Green Party candidates Wendi Fredrickson, of Helena, and Dennis Daneke of Lolo, as well as Libertarian Eric Fulton, of Whitefish, have also filed in the Senate race.
Montana’s other U.S. Senator, Democrat Jon Tester, was re-elected to a six-year term in 2018.
Bullock served one term as Montana’s attorney general before successfully running for governor in 2012. He is prevented from seeking re-election as governor by term limits. Bullock made an unsuccessful 2020 bid for U.S. President, suspending his presidential campaign in December.
The governor has been seen by many Democrats as the party’s best hope for winning Daines’ seat, a victory that could help tip control of the Senate away from Republicans, who hold a 53-47 majority. While campaigning for president, Bullock repeatedly denied he was interested in a Senate bid, telling a CNN town hall last summer that he was an “absolute no” on running against Daines.
Talking to reporters after signing his candidacy paperwork in the state Capitol Monday, Bullock said he had previously decided against running another campaign, preferring instead to devote time to family, as his eldest daughter is a few months away from leaving for college. He reconsidered, he said, based on conversations with his family.
“We decided that I can either wish that Washington worked more like Montana, or that we could try to do something about it,” he said, flanked by his wife, daughters, and son. “We decided that this wasn’t a time to be on the sidelines.”
High-profile national Democrats have been pressuring Bullock for months to challenge Daines. According to Politico, former President Barack Obama met privately with Bullock in Washington, D.C. last month and urged him run for the Senate. Bullock also met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in Montana last month, which Politico described as “a last-ditch effort to woo him to run for the Senate.”
While Bullock on Monday denied that the meetings were a significant factor in his decision, the Montana GOP has already attacked him for allegedly buckling to pressure from the national party, calling the governor “Chuck Schumer’s puppet” on Twitter.