After one of the most intensive, even stubborn, courtships in recent political history, national and local Democrats have reportedly overcome Montana governor Steve Bullock’s opposition to a 2020 Senate race. The New York Times has the story:
Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana is poised to reverse himself and run for the Senate, according to three Democratic officials, a decision that would hand the party a coveted recruit who could help reclaim a majority in the chamber.
After months of insisting he would not challenge Senator Steve Daines, Mr. Bullock, who ran for president last year, has told Democrats in the last week he is now inclined to run in what would immediately become one of the marquee Senate races of 2020. Mr. Bullock has only a few days to finalize his decision: the filing deadline to run in Montana is Monday.
If this happens, Bullock would become the second former presidential candidate from his area of the country to publicly and privately disclaim any interest in a Senate race before and after White House plans had disintegrated. The other, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, reversed himself soon after folding his presidential bid. Bullock took much longer to convince.
The difference could well be that Hickenlooper is from a state that has been leaning blue recently, and is facing a deeply vulnerable incumbent, Cory Gardner. Montana went for Trump by 20 points in 2016. Yes, Bullock was reelected (narrowly) as governor that year, but often governors are able to separate themselves from their national parties. In 2016, not a single senator was elected from the losing party in any state’s presidential contest. Ticket-splitting just didn’t much happen.
But who knows for sure what will transpire this time? Just four years earlier, in 2012, five Democratic Senate candidates won in states carried by Mitt Romney — including Montana’s Jon Tester. For the Democrats who have been begging Bullock to reconsider — including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former president Barack Obama — a win’s not even essential. Keeping Montana competitive — and no one doubts the governor is the Democrat best able to do that — will tie down GOP resources better spent elsewhere. Bullock’s apparently been assured of all the party and union support he could ask for. If he does win, he could help a new Democratic president get executive branch and judicial appointments, and perhaps some legislation, through the Senate, or keep a reelected Trump from running wild.
According to the Times, Bullock’s family has okayed the change of plans. That’s important. Many beltway types just assume any governor would consider a Senate seat a major promotion. That’s ridiculous if you think about it. Governors run entire state governments, not a small staff. Governors make news whenever they feel like it. Senators are 1 of 100 perpetually jockeying for attention. Governors live in a nice, publicly maintained mansion. Senators have to pay for two residences and must return home to press the flesh with The Folks in order not to appear out of touch.
So the good news for Bullock is that by running for the Senate he is gratifying a lot of powerful people who can do much for him if he wins — and will still owe him if he loses. Who knows, maybe he won’t even have to move to Washington.