Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of Montana, officially announced his 2020 presidential bid on Tuesday, hoping to recapture the same magic that helped him win over pro-Trump voters in 2016.
The bid has been a long time coming. And in a cycle where many Democratic voters are focused on selecting a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump, Bullock hopes a single talking point will distinguish him from the nearly two dozen Democratic hopefuls: his ruby-red street cred.
“As a Democratic governor of a state that Trump won by 20 points, I don’t have the luxury of just talking to people who agree with me,” he says in a nearly three-minute launch video titled, “Fair Shot.”
Bullock is the only 2020 Democrat who won a state Trump blew out nationally. And his campaign already signaled he’ll be unafraid to call out Trump by name.
“We need to defeat Donald Trump in 2020,” he says in the video, calling the election “the fight of our time.”
“I believe in an America where every child has a fair shot to do better than their parents,” he continues. “But we all know that kind of opportunity no longer exists for most people; for far too many, it never has.”
Flashes of the governor’s focus on getting money out of politics, one of the top priorities of his 2020 run, appears in his video through an unexpected messenger: Rachel Maddow, the liberal journalist whose late-night program on MSNBC has become a must-stop for 2020 candidates.
“Every single state in the union abandoned its own corporate spending regulations after Citizens United, except for one, except for Montana,” Maddow says in a 2012 segment. “Attorney General Steve Bullock has personally fought to keep Montana’s elections laws the way they are.”
At 53, Bullock is at the generational cross-section of contenders whose ages span from late thirties to late seventies. He’s banking on his red-state bonafides to help him stand out from more than a dozen white men vying for the nomination, including two fellow governors. But unlike Bullock, those governors, Jay Inslee from Washington and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, hail from solidly blue strongholds out West.
Bullock waited to officially launch his presidential campaign until the end of the Montana’s legislative session in April. But, behind the scenes, he’s been cobbling together a preliminary bid, traveling to early-voting states, hiring over a half-dozen aides to former President Barack Obama, and adopting progressive policies like a $15 minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.
In mid-2017, he formed a political action committee, Big Sky Values PAC, to help fund political activity beyond Montana. Most recently, he ran the National Governors Association, a post that allowed him to crisscross the country and interface with voters, on a platform of “good jobs for all Americans.” During his tenure, Democrats gained seven governorships during the 2018 midterm cycle.
On Tuesday, he rolled out two national staff hires: Jenn Ridder as his campaign manager and Galia Slayen as communications director. He also added staff in Iowa, the first state to caucus, where he is heading on Thursday. Megan Simpson will serve as state director and Jeremy Busch as press secretary, his campaign announced.
Iowa is expected to be a top target of Bullock’s campaign, and his prep work started early. “I overheard one person at an event saying they weren’t going to vote for any white guys this time,” one influential Democratic activist in Des Moines said, “but then they met Gov. Bullock and he’s at least in their top three.”