Photo: AP
Photo: AP

The Senate Race to Turn Montana Blue

After a failed presidential bid, Gov. Steve Bullock shows impressive fundraising numbers in his race for the U.S. Senate.


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Democrats need to flip four seats and retain the 47 they have now if they are to win control of the Senate. Many are keeping their eyes on the races in states like Arizona and Colorado because they see both a Senate and presidential election victory there. 

It is easy to see why from a distant glance the race in Montana might not be as flashy or attainable for the Democratic party. The Treasure State has not voted for a Democrat in president since Bill Clinton in 1992

The Joe Biden campaign might not think that they can win Montana, but Democratic governor Steve Bullock is up to the task. He is set to take on Republican-incumbent Steve Daines in November for one of the state’s Senate spots.  

Bullock is most known for launching a late presidential bid last year in May. 

The main pitch when on the stump was that he won in a Trump state. In 2016, both him and Donald Trump were on the ballot in Montana. Although Trump carried Montana by 20 points, Bullock won his governor reelection race by four points.

This was central to his presidential campaign, that he could appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum and in different parts of the country. 

The only primary debate he qualified for was the second in July. He could never get his campaign off the ground as the centrist lane was divided by more prominent Democratic figures like former vice president Biden or Senator Amy Klobuchar. 

After failing to qualify for future debates, he would be asked about running for Senate but always said that even if he dropped out, he would absolutely not run and take on Daines.

His resume in Montana state politics is far more impressive.  

As Attorney General of Montana, he took on FedEx for classifying their workers as independent contractors instead of employees and avoiding paying millions of dollars in taxes. In 2010, FedEx settled the dispute with the state for $2.3 million. 

He also fought the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to big spending in politics and had it so the First Amendment would be interpreted to protect corporate speech. 

Bullock did not want corporate protections to be extended to Montana and he took his fight to the Supreme Court in the case American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock where he lost 5-4.

In his two terms as governor, he worked with a state legislature that was always around 60% Republican, but still managed to get progressive policies passed. 

These include: expanding Medicaid access, a college tuition freeze and passing the Disclose Act, which calls for groups who invested in last minute advertising in Montana elections to release how they spent to influence elections in the state.

In the time of COVID-19, Bullock has also known how to manage and protect his state. 

Montana has less than 1,600 confirmed cases, which is less than figures in Delaware, Rhode Island and other states of a similar size, according to the CDC

Steve Daines does not hold a leadership position in the Senate, and is also not a well-recognized national figure. 

In his term in the upper chamber of Congress, he came out against net neutrality, introduced a bill to eliminate the Department of Education and voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

“To suggest that it’s human-caused is not a sound scientific conclusion… There is a human component, here, but I think it’s important to recognize there are also natural trends, given the climate is always changing, it’s never static, it’s always increasing or decreasing,” Daines said on climate change

Recently, Daines has teamed up with Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey in creating bipartisan legislation that would allocate $50 billion in COVID-19 relief to Black-owned businesses. But this effort might come too late as the general election is four months away.

Fundraising numbers are also not in the favor of the incumbent, as Bullock has been able to raise millions in a short amount of time, making up for lost time.

After repeatedly refusing to run for a seat in the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schummer and former President Barack Obama met with Bullock separately to express that many within the Democratic party wanted him to mount a challenge to Daines.

Bullock filed the paperwork the day before the deadline. Within the first 24 hours, he raised $1.2 million and although he did not file until the end of the first quarter, he still raised more than Daines.

For the second quarter, which ended on June 30, Bullock raised $7.7 million. That is more than what Democrat Cal Cunnigham raised in his race to take on an incumbent Republican senator in North Carolina, a state that is nearly 10 times the population of Montana, but has an equally tight race.  

Most polls view this Senate race as a toss up, but a recent poll from the University of Montana has Bullock four points up against Daines. 

The state already has one democratic Senator in Jon Tester, so if Bullock wins his election and if Democrats retain the governor’s office, a blue wave could be coming across Montana. 

It’s also set to be a more valuable state electorally for the future, as it’s expected to gain a congressional district after the 2020 census. 

In presidential elections they have three electoral votes, but after an added district they would go up to four. 


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