Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (right), a longtime friend of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, traveled with the likely Democratic candidate for the presidency to Carroll. Bullock plans to make an official announcement in weeks on a run for the White House.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (right), a longtime friend of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, traveled with the likely Democratic candidate for the presidency to Carroll. Bullock plans to make an official announcement in weeks on a run for the White House.

February 18, 2019

Democrats should look outside Washington, D.C. — and to the heart of rural America — for a presidential nominee who can challenge Donald Trump on the sitting commander-in-chief’s home political turf, the governor of Montana said in Carroll Saturday.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Montanan who carried his deeply red political state as a Democrat in 2016, the same year of Trump’s ascension, is mulling a White House run. Bullock traveled through Iowa this past weekend, meeting with Democratic activists, including about 20 people at Queen Beans Coffeehouse in Carroll around noon.

“I believe (Washington) D.C. is the place where fighting is the substitute for doing,” Bullock said.

He earned plaudits from rural Iowa Democrats in the Carroll area who heard him speak and, after Bullock left the coffeehouse, used terms like “down-to-earth” and “practical” to describe a candidate they also see as being able to “work with Republicans.”

A former attorney general of Montana, Bullock, 52, an avid hunter and fisherman with a conversational, approachable style of politics, already has earned strong support from a fixture in Iowa Democratic circles: veteran Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

“I believe Steve can connect with voters better than any of the other 27 (announced or potential Democratic presidential candidates),” Miller said in Carroll. He’s been personal friends with Bullock for 12 years.

Bullock has not formally entered the presidential race but is expected to make an announcement within weeks.

“I think I know a little something about winning in difficult areas,” Bullock said.

Bullock said Trump fatigue and anger isn’t enough to win a presidential election for his party. What’s more, if Democrats use a coastal strategy to capture the White House while ignoring middle America, the next president won’t be able to govern effectively, he said.

In Montana, Bullock said, he’s been successful in getting the state’s residents to see that expanded Medicaid, which is vital for keeping rural hospitals open, and pre-kindergarten are essential for both Democrats and Republicans.

“There are things that we can do to give people a better shot along the way,” he said.

In an interview with this newspaper, Bullock said for many Americans the economy is broken, but government decisions are controlled by interest groups, meaning there is little trust in leaders actually solving problems.

“They say ‘None of this works,’ and that feeds into the distrust and the divisiveness we have,” he said. “We have to find a way to heal that.”

Bullock said he is comfortable campaigning and working in areas that typically are not hospitable to Democrats.

“First of all, I show up,” he said. “I’m a Democrat in Montana. I don’t have the luxury of just going to Democratic strongholds, and it’s the same when I govern. I try to listen as much as I talk.”

Bullock said he removes his own ego from governing and gets around political fights of the day.

Should people who voted for Trump be ashamed of that vote?

“I think there was a lot of frustration in the 2016 election,” Bullock said. “People thought if Washington is not working, the economy is not working; let’s go with (Trump) and we can blow things up.”

Often, people who voted for both Trump and Bullock would tell the governor they didn’t agree with him on all the issues but could relate to him, Bullock said.

“Often, they say that ‘You don’t try to be anything more than who you are,’” he said of response from his constituents.

The Democrats need to give people reasons to vote with them and believe government can play a constructive role in their lives, Bullock said. Trump is the result, not the cause, of people feeling like government can’t work, Bullock said, noting that 30 percent of his voters also supported Trump.

Even if Democrats could cobble together 270 electoral votes, if we don’t start bridging some of these deep-seated divides we have and demonstrate that government can work, this grand 240-year experiment in representative democracy, I think it’s becoming more and more tenuous,” Bullock said.