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Montana governor Steve Bullock kicked off his Senate campaign by claiming that he “won’t answer to party bosses,” just months after reports emerged that the Democrat bowed to pressure from Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) to break his pledge not to run in 2020.
Bullock emphasized in his first TV ad that he would not be beholden to party leaders after bowing to pressure from top Democrats to jump in the race. Though Bullock repeatedly dismissed a Senate bid during his unsuccessful presidential campaign—it was “something that never really got me excited,” he said—Bullock buckled after closed-door meetings in February with Schumer and former president Barack Obama.
The Montana governor campaigned as a centrist when he was elected in 2012, but embraced several left-wing positions during his ill-fated presidential campaign. In June 2019, for example, Bullock flipped on his long-standing support for the state’s coal plants, citing a U.N. recommendation to transition away from the energy source. He also expressed support for an assault weapons ban.
Jessica Taylor, Senate editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said that Bullock’s attempt to cultivate an independent image, and to distance himself from top party leaders, is essential to the success of his campaign against incumbent Republican senator Steve Daines. Montana voters may be willing to elect a Democrat to the governorship, but sending one to Washington is “very different,” according to Taylor.
“The way Republicans win in Montana is by reminding people that [Bullock] is a Democrat, and that voters see state races very differently than they see federal races,” Taylor told the Washington Free Beacon. “Republicans are going to remind voters that [Bullock] would caucus with Democrats at the federal level and would give Chuck Schumer a Senate majority.”
While Bullock could be bolstered by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which earned him a 70 percent approval rating in a May Montana State University poll, Taylor said it is “typically much harder” to translate that support to a Senate race.
Bullock’s spokeswoman Olivia Bercow said that Bullock has “made it clear” that his decision to run was shaped by “conversations with his family and the many Montanans who don’t feel like Washington works,” adding that he “doesn’t take marching orders from anyone in Washington.” Former Montana Democratic senator Max Baucus said that Bullock’s meeting with Schumer was “key to the decision” to run following the governor’s campaign launch in March, according to the Associated Press.
Shortly after the ad’s release, the National Republican Senatorial Committee responded with a video showing how Bullock had reversed his positions since launching his failed presidential bid. One former veteran GOP strategist said Bullock’s national campaign “exposed him as a total hypocrite.”
“On issues like guns, he’s flip-flopped from his position as governor to try and please the liberal activist base while running for president. He’s rendered himself too liberal for Montana,” the former strategist told the Free Beacon.
Bullock also claimed in his new ad that he “won’t take a dime from corporate PACs,” though his campaign has benefited from corporate largesse. Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC—which takes millions from corporate PACs and some of the nation’s wealthiest liberals—has spent $700,000 on ads targeting Sen. Daines. In addition, liberal dark money group Protect Our Care announced in March that it will spend $250,000 supporting Bullock through TV ads. The group is affiliated with Arabella Advisors, a shadowy network that spent $600 million backing Democrats in 2018 without revealing the source of its funds.
“The only reason Steve Bullock is in this race is because his party bosses told him he had to,” a spokesperson for the Montana Republican Party told the Free Beacon. “And Bullock’s hypocrisy on corporate PAC money is even worse, having taken nearly $200,000 from Democratic Leadership PACs, which are funded by corporate PACs.”
One top GOP Senate operative called Bullock the “quintessential central casting politician.”
“Schumer and Obama felt comfortable recruiting Bullock for Senate behind the scenes at a time when he was publicly denying interest because they knew the truth—they knew he was interested,” the operative told the Free Beacon. “Bullock’s decision to run for two Washington, D.C., offices in the last year has to do with his desire to get out of Montana and into D.C. as fast as possible.”