HELENA — Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appears ready to enter Montana’s U.S. Senate race, to challenge Republican Sen. Steve Daines, transforming the contest into one of the nation’s marquee electoral battles, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Multiple sources also have told MTN News that Bullock may announce his candidacy on Monday – the last possible day that candidates can file for the ballot in Montana.
The two-term governor, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits, did not immediately return a telephone call asking for comment.
Bullock ended a seven-month presidential run last December and has been steadfastly rejecting requests from national Democrats and others to enter the race, saying he wasn’t interested.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and former President Barack Obama each met with Bullock personally in the last month.
The Times also reported that union officials have told Bullock he’ll have “all the resources” he needs in what’s sure to be a hugely expensive contest. The paper also said that Bullock appears to have the support of his family, and that he’d been reluctant to commit to the race earlier because of concerns about the possible impact on his wife, Lisa, and their three children.
Bullock’s entry into the race would catapult it to one of the top U.S. Senate contests in the country – and possibly the most expensive Senate race in Montana history.
The 2018 battle between Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Matt Rosendale in Montana cost about $70 million and drew President Trump to the state four times, in support of Rosendale. Tester won a close race, 50 percent to 47 percent.
Montana State University political scientist David Parker told MTN News Wednesday that the money poured into a 2020 race with Bullock vs. Daines would benefit Montana Democrats up and down the ticket – possibly another motivator for the governor to run.
Parker also speculated that presidential candidate Joe Biden’s strong showing in Tuesday’s primaries might further persuade Bullock, who would rather run with fellow moderate Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket than the more liberal Bernie Sanders.
“Running with Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket (in Montana) is like trying to hike Granite Peak with an 80-pound rucksack, wearing sandals,” Parker quipped.
National Republicans wasted no time teeing off on Bullock Wednesday, once the news broke that me might run.
Samantha Zager, regional spokesman for Trump campaign, said Bullock “shirked his responsibilities as governor to pursue his own political aspirations and failed miserably,” referring to Bullock’s presidential run.
“Now, he’s hoping Montanans have forgotten his botched presidential bid, along with months of insistence that he wouldn’t run for Senate,” she said in a statement.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a statement saying Bullock is “giving a foolish Senate run another look.”
“Whether it’s his support for removing President Trump from office, banning guns or allowing a top staffer to prey on women, Bullock lacks the character and values Montanans expect from a senator,” said NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand.
A spokeswoman for Daines, who’s running for re-election to a second term, said Daines is “ready to win this race.”
“Sen. Daines has a proud record of delivering results, protecting our way of life and always putting Montana first,” said Julia Doyle.
If Bullock enters the race, he’d be the fourth Democrat on the ballot – but of course would be the prohibitive favorite to win the primary and take on Daines.
The other Democrats who’ve filed are political newcomers who are largely unknown to voters: Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, Loma rancher and engineer John Mues, and health-policy expert Cora Neumann of Bozeman.
Bullock spoke last Saturday at the Montana Democrats’ top annual fundraiser, the Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, but gave no indication that he was contemplating a Senate run.
But earlier this week, political sources in Montana began telling MTN News that Bullock was preparing to get into the race and would file next Monday.
Top-ranking Democrats, however, would not confirm Bullock’s plans – although they also would not say the governor had ruled out a Senate run.