State-level Democratic leaders are showing how populism and pragmatism combined can energize liberal turnout while still winning crucial swing-state support.
Under a clear blue sky in late summer, with the peaks of the Gallatin Mountains as a backdrop, Montana Governor Steve Bullock mingles with guests at a private event on a ranch just outside Bozeman. Holding a plate piled high with barbecue, Bullock is half a head taller than most of the people here. He is genial and relaxed, in jeans and battered brown shoes. His nametag reads, “Governor Steve.”
A young mother brings over two little girls in flowered sundresses, and Bullock immediately drops down to eye level. A few minutes later, the girls leave with their mother, smiles on their faces, their votes no doubt locked up for 15 years hence when the girls will be old enough to cast a ballot. In half the conversations that swirl around Bullock, there are joking references to 2020 and hints about the Governor’s ambitions. It’s an open secret here that the Bullock might be running for President.
Just this past fall, Bullock won re-election over GOP challenger billionaire Greg Gianforte by four percentage points—50 percent to 46 percent—in a state where only 35 percent of voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton for President and Donald Trump won by 20 points. That victory is Bullock’s calling card into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, along with the prairie populist credentials he has burnished. As the state’s Attorney General, he endeared himself to sportsmen by authoring a state opinion guaranteeing access to public lands. He also took on the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, defending the state’s ban on corporate spending (he lost when the Court reaffirmed its decision).
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