Democrat Steve Bullock ends struggling presidential campaign

Jason Lalljee

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ended his campaign for the 2020 presidential nomination on Monday, saying it was clear he wasn't gaining ground on the other candidates. 

Bullock, 53, has been governor since 2013. He previously served a term as attorney general of Montana. 

Bullock announced his candidacy in May. His announcement video highlighted his role in leading Montana’s Citizens United pushback, one that was unsuccessful but cemented Bullock’s commitment to curbing corporate campaign spending. 

“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,” Bullock said in a statement.

In 2013, he attracted national attention as attorney general by challenging the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court decision, defending his state’s ban on corporate campaign expenditures. The Citizens United ruling – which gave corporations the right to use money to attack or aid candidates – fell under that ban. 

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But he remained at the bottom of the polls and unfamiliar to many voters. His biggest national exposure appeared to come when he didn’t make the cut for the first debate, resulting in a slate of news stories and an appearance on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

“We need to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, and defeat the corrupt system that lets campaign money drown out the people’s voice,” he said in his announcement video. “So we can finally make good on the promise of a fair shot for everyone.” 

Bullock largely spent his time as governor working around the Supreme Court’s ruling. In 2015, he signed a campaign finance reform law that required political groups to disclose information about their donors and ad spending. In 2018, he also signed an executive order requiring contractors to disclose “dark money” election funding.

Throughout his campaign, Bullock emphasized his intention to tackle corrupt spending in Washington. He went so far as to accuse fellow candidate, billionaire Tom Steyer, of buying his way into the third presidential debate.  

Bullock's team called this focus on "Big Money" the campaign's "One Big Idea." It involved Bullock's pledge to sign an executive order on his first day as president requiring every company to disclose what they spend to "influence" U.S. elections, at the risk of otherwise being prohibited from contracting with the federal government.

From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock take the stage for the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Bullock is a rare Democratic governor leading a Republican state. A Democrat running for president hasn’t won in Montana since 1992, and Trump won the state by more than 20 points in 2016. Bullock is the only Democratic presidential candidate to win a statewide office in a place that Trump carried in 2016. 

Bullock made the cutoff for the second debate in July, using his time onstage to argue that he was – and that his fellow candidates weren't – electable to Republicans.

“I come from a state where a lot of people voted for Donald Trump,” he said from the debate stage. “Let’s not kid ourselves, he will be hard to beat. Yet watching that last debate, folks seemed more concerned about scoring points or outdoing each other with wish-list economics than making sure Americans know we hear their voices and will help their lives.”

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Bullock often insisted that his ability to work successfully with Montana's Republican-controlled legislature qualified him to work with Republicans in Congress. 

“Nearly every single proposal I asked the [Montana] legislature to take seriously arrived at my desk,” Bullock wrote in a Medium post at the end of the state's last legislative session. “Even in the face of Washington DC’s partisan gridlock, we in Montana can still be a shining example of how our political system is supposed to work.”

Like John Hickenlooper, Colorado's former governor, Bullock was a moderate long-shot candidate running in the primary whom Democrats implored to pursue a Senate bid instead.

Supporters of their theoretical Senate runs wanted to capitalize on Hickenlooper and Bullock's popularity in their states to flip red Senate seats, an idea that Hickenlooper eventually embraced but which Bullock has opposed.

Contributing: Associated Press