On Monday, Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock announced to CNN that he would be abandoning his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Pointing to the still-enormous field of Democratic contenders, Bullock said: “While there were many obstacles we could not have anticipated when entering this race, it has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates.”
Governor Bullock is the latest example of the weird dynamic within the 2020 Democratic primary cycle, one in which political experience and executive skill seem to matter very little. Of the top ten polling candidates, two (Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer) have never held elected office, one (Pete Buttigieg) is a millennial with only mayoral experience, and one (Michael Bloomberg) has won elections as a Republican and Independent, but never as a Democratic contender.
Meanwhile, multi-term governors with significant political and legislative achievements under their belts – Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, Washington’s Jay Inslee, and now Steve Bullock – have fallen by the wayside.
Bullock’s candidacy never really made it off the ground; his polling scraped along at around 1%, he struggled to raise funds and he only managed to get on stage in the July debate before being left behind by rising entry requirements.
His numbers probably weren’t helped by the fact that he was swept up in a slugfest between progressives and neoliberal candidates in his only debate performance.
Bullock’s debate performance was particularly embarrassing for him, as his defining moment consisted of starting an unprovoked fight with Elizabeth Warren over nuclear weapons, of all things. Voters came away from that debate with the uneasy realization that a President Bullock would seemingly have no qualms about authorizing surprise nuclear strikes, like some deranged comic book villain.
The real damage the debate did to Bullock’s candidacy was that it gave across the impression that he was merely part of a bloc of neoliberal candidates.
But Bullock’s candidacy didn’t fit neatly into a progressives vs. neoliberal framework. Despite his views on Medicare For All and nuclear proliferation, the Montana Governor has a strong progressive streak.
He described himself as a “pro-choice, pro-union Democrat,” and railed against the insidious role of big money in politics. However, the unusual dynamics of this contest didn’t allow him to make this case to the voters effectively.
Another key selling point that Bullock was unable to capitalize upon was his position as the only Democrat to win statewide election in a red state in 2016.
Bullock was able to comfortably win reelection despite the fact that Montana swung for Trump by over twenty points! This ability to appeal to conservative voters should have been compelling to Democratic voters, but was largely drowned out in the crucial early stages by the sea of contenders (now that the field has thinned somewhat, Senator Amy Klobuchar is making a similar pitch more effectively).
Bullock’s political path is now unclear.
Having abandoned his White House campaign, he will also have to abandon the governor’s residence in Helena after 2020; Montana has gubernatorial term-limits. Bullock has also unequivocally ruled out running for the U.S. Senate – despite the fact that incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines’ seat is up in 2020.
However, a Senate run for Bullock is still a possibility. After dismissing a Senate run while he was still a presidential candidate, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper was convinced to mount a Senate campaign against Cory Gardner. Bullock could still be lobbied by forces within the Democratic Party into challenging Daines.