Battle Royale in Montana Senate Race

If reporting from CNN and the New York Times is right, Montana’s Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock has decided to reverse his earlier decision and jump in the race to challenge Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Given the fact that it pretty much looked like Daines was going to have a cakewalk back to the Senate fueled by the $5 million already in his war chest, Bullock’s move is very good news for Democrats hoping to take back a majority in the Senate.

Bullock’s aspirations to run for president ended rather early, as he didn’t generate much excitement nationally and simply couldn’t make the cutoff for funding or popularity during the first debates among the crowded Democratic field. Contrary to that, there is significant excitement and support for his challenge to Daines from top-level Democrats, the party and funders ready to fuel the campaign.

As reported by Politico, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer flew out to Montana recently to personally ask Bullock to reconsider his decision to not run for the Senate. Originally, Bullock said he preferred “the executive” branch in his presidential bid, not “the legislative.” He also said he was concerned about moving his family to Washington, D.C., should he win the Senate seat. But that appears to have changed and, according to the articles from late last week, Bullock’s family is “now warming to the idea.”

Given that today is the deadline for filing and the primary election is June 2, Bullock will be very late in starting a campaign for Senate. If that sounds familiar, it’s because one of the reasons he blamed for his less-than-stellar showing on the presidential campaign trail was because he jumped in so late due to having to deal with Montana’s 2019 legislative session.

But for those who perceived the other Democratic challengers as weak, inexperienced and severely underfunded, their concern is not how late the hour, but how strong the candidate Bullock will be against the incumbent Daines. And indeed, after two terms as Montana’s attorney general and two successful elections as Montana’s governor — even in the 2016 Republican blowout that captured all statewide offices except Bullock’s — it’s more than fair to say he’s well-known and obviously “electable” in the Big Sky State.

Daines, in the meantime, will now face a very serious challenge from Bullock’s persona and debate skills as well as the millions of dollars that will now flow into his campaign coffers. Indeed, predictions are that this will be the most expensive Senate race in Montana’s history.

Bullock will have his own challenges, however. Daines already has 5 million bucks in the bank and recently received personal assurances of President Trump’s support via more of his famous red-hat rallies.

But there are plenty of wildcards up in the air right now. The continued expansion of coronavirus nationally and globally has already caused a number of countries to limit large gatherings of people to combat the spread of the potentially fatal disease. Should the disease show up in Montana, it won’t bode well for large rallies for any politician, let alone a president desperately trying to preserve the Republican Senate majority. Toss in the extreme volatility of the financial markets, his much-criticized response to coronavirus, and the continuing impacts from his trade wars and Trump may not have the 2016 impact he enjoyed against Hillary Clinton.

Rest assured, the eyes of the nation will soon be on Montana as a popular Democratic governor takes on a Trump loyalist in what will be a battle royale for the Senate majority.


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.