Gov. Steve Bullock did the inevitable last week, announcing that he too would run for president of the United States. He enters an already crowded field of Democratic candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and about 20 others.
One argument in Bullock’s favor is that he has won in rural America and he can point to Montana as proof. When the governor was reelected in 2016, President Donald Trump carried the state by 20 points. It’s a unique resume and one you’re apt to hear more about. But it’s unlikely enough to break through in the Democratic primary.
So, what else?
Well, Bullock has thrust campaign finance reform to the forefront of his campaign. It’s an important issue as far issues go. Many view the amount dark money in politics as a crisis and the governor can draw more attention to those concerns over the course of his presidential run.
Still, it’s a dry issue. And will the issues of the day actually matter in 2020? Will support or opposition to tariffs, a southern border wall, trade agreements, budget deficits and all the rest matter?
One would hope so. But many policy positions get lost among the noise, especially with so many candidates vying for your attention.
Last year, the top issues for Americans voters were health care, the economy and immigration, according Gallup. Republicans held the Senate and Democrats took the House. Meanwhile, health-care costs continue to rise, the economy is humming along, and the U.S. immigration system is choking under the pressure of asylum seekers from Central America.
Health care is an issue Bullock can brag about since the Republican-led Legislature continued Medicaid expansion in Montana. But every other Democratic candidate’s platform will include improving health care. It may be tough for Bullock to differentiate himself.
He also won’t own the mantle of outsider Western governor. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is running. So is former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. For many voters across the country, this is the first time they’ve heard these names and they should be forgiven for mixing up the three men.
It appears Bullock is banking on a good showing in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3. He has already spent considerable time there and returned last week. Bullock became first candidate to garner an endorsement from a statewide election official in the Hawkeye State after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced his support.
It’s a make-or-break state for the governor, who wasn’t even included in the most recent polls in Iowa, which show Biden and Sanders leading the field of Democratic Primary candidates with 23.7 and 19.7 percent respectively, according to Real Clear Politics.
For Bullock to move the needle, he will have to appeal to those voters who, first and foremost, care about the issues. And, as University of Montana professor Lee Banville told MTN News, not all of them do.
“There are these different candidates who are really going to appeal to your heart and Bullock is kind of a head candidate,” Banville said. He added: “The challenge is the primaries are often about the heart.”
Bullock’s fate could be sealed as soon as those February caucuses. If his name appears on the ballot when Montanans vote four months later, he would have to overcome extremely long odds.