Opinion

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Closing Range

Bullock for President?

Breaking down what the Montana governor is thinking

The “big news” over the past weeks has been the entry of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock into the wickedly crowded race for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. What is the total now, something like 24 and counting? So now we have breathless stories about the first Montanan running for national office, bouncing from café to café in various Iowa towns.

What the heck is Bullock thinking? Why not run for U.S. Senate against Steve Daines?

During his rollout, Bullock told reporters he’d pegged 2016 as a final campaign, to “finish up as governor and then we’re done.” That made sense at the time. Hillary Clinton was a consensus shoo-in to break the glass ceiling in the Javits Center and become the first woman President of the United States. Then, of course, she’d be a two-term landslide winner in 2020, when Bullock’s term ended. A backwoods state governor challenging his party’s sitting President wouldn’t go well.

Shockingly, the Soviets stole the 2016 election (and if you believe that, I’ve got some Lake Missoula frontage for sale), Trump thereby won by an eyelash, and the robbed Left (and the hornswoggled leftist media) went bonkers. In 2018, Democrats won back the House. For 2020, Democrats have a decent map for grabbing the Senate – and maybe even the White House.

May. Be.

Now the narrative is, Bullock “beat the spread” in a state that went big for Donald Trump (56 percent to 35). Is it really that simple?

Nope. Bullock defeated wealthy political novice Greg Gianforte 50 percent to 46, by less than four percent, not much better than he did against Rick Hill in 2012, 48-47, roughly a 1.3 percent win margin in a race where the good old Libertarian scored 3.7 percent.

But someone else in recent memory didn’t just beat, but stomped “the spread.” The 2004 Montana governor race was an open seat because then-governor Judy Martz mishandled the Shane Hedges drunk-driving fiasco that killed Flathead Republican rising star Paul Sliter.

Brian Schweitzer beat Bob Brown by about four points, while George Bush defeated John Kerry by roughly 20 points. In short, Bullock’s second-term incumbent “spread” is about the same as Schweitzer’s for an open seat.

In 2008, incumbent Brian Schweitzer pounded Roy (not Bob) Brown 65-32, 33 points, when John McCain limped past Barack Obama by 2.8 percent in Montana.

Why? Well, Brian Schweitzer is a guy who truly lives up to his initials. He can sling the stuff. The media loved his folksy patter. Who knows what office he might hold today if he hadn’t self-immolated his political future by bragging up his “gaydar” to a New York Times reporter?

Oops!

But Schweitzer set the standard. He was a master politician, who could get my attention, even make me laugh despite myself. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at anything Steve Bullock has ever said or done.

It’s a safe bet that Steve Bullock did the same comparison, added in Jon Tester’s margins of victory, plus the “balance” in the Legislature, and couldn’t see any path to victory against Daines.

How about the White House? A long shot is better than zero. Democrats finally picked a “safe” choice in 2016, rejecting crazy Uncle Bernie in favor of “establishment” favorite Hillary Clinton. Will Democrats nominate a “safe” flag-bearer in 2020? Will the radicals cannibalize each other? Sure, but will that happen before or after they gang up on the so-called “moderates?” Who might be left standing?

There’s another factor in play. During and after the 2016 election, news stories reported on the vast seas of rural “red” America, which former president Bill Clinton had been tasked with outreaching – to “working-class,” “blue-collar,” and “rural” voters. The aspiring First Man had warned his wife’s campaign management, unavailingly, that ignoring the heartland would cost her the race. Who is the only one of 24 Democratic candidates from “the heartland,” who might balance the ticket, in either slot? Yep.

And, if Trump loses, there will be “executive” political appointments to be made in the Cabinet. That’s what Steve Bullock is thinking.