HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday he will run against first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines, giving Democrats a boost in their effort to take control of the Senate in November.
His decision to run is an about-face made at the last minute for the two-term governor, who ended his long-shot bid for president in December and had repeatedly insisted he had no interest in running for the Senate.
Flanked by his family, Bullock told reporters he previously rejected the idea of another campaign out of consideration for his wife Lisa and their three school-age children who have been in the public eye for most of their lives. But they decided as a family to go ahead on the final day that candidates can file for the elections.
“As a family, we’ve been talking about this quite a bit as of late,” Bullock said in a news conference after filing his paperwork. “We decided that I can either wish that Washington worked more like Montana or we would try to do something about it. We decided that this wasn’t the time to be on the sidelines or step back.”
Lisa Bullock said the family had to work through issues including wanting to spend time with their oldest daughter, Caroline, who will be leaving for college later this year, along with the grind and negativity that comes with campaigning.
“Campaigns are hard on families,” Lisa Bullock said. “I think it’s been hard in the last three (campaigns) for our children to witness what has been published and what has been said about their father.”
Democrats need to win four seats now held by Republicans, without losing any to win outright control of the Senate. If President Donald Trump is defeated, the Democrats would need a net gain of three seats and the vice-president’s tie-breaking vote for control.
Bullock had come under increasing pressure to run since dropping his presidential bid, including meeting with former President Barack Obama in Washington. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recently traveled to Montana to meet with Bullock.
Former Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said the meeting between Schumer, Bullock and their wives was key to the decision. Bullock is seeking Baucus’ old seat.
Bullock said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s control of the issues that go before the Senate — health insurance, prescription drugs, outside money in campaigns — influenced him to run more than Schumer.
“To me, that’s a lot more motivation than any national Democrat,” Bullock said.
Baucus said it “probably helped” that former Vice President Joe Biden has surged in the Democratic presidential primary race, making it less likely that self-described democratic socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will lead the ticket in the strongly pro-Trump state.
Bullock said Biden’s comeback wasn’t part of his consideration.
Four of the five other Democrats who had announced Senate bids dropped out by Monday evening.
Daines has the backing of Trump, for whom the state overwhelmingly voted in 2016. Trump has tweeted his support for Daines, who recently met with the Republican president at the White House.
Daines’ campaign manager, Shane Scanlon, did not directly respond to Bullock’s decision in a comment to The Associated Press.
“We’re going to win this race because Steve Daines is always on Montana’s side fighting for more high-paying jobs, against big government and defending Montanans’ way of life,” Scanlon said.
As Bullock frequently pointed out during his presidential campaign, he was the only Democratic governor to win reelection in a state Trump won in 2016. Trump also traveled to Montana four times to campaign against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in the 2018 election, but Tester won, anyway.
Republicans started the campaign against Bullock by saying he caved to party leaders to run for a job he doesn’t want.
“Governor Bullock is nothing more than Chuck Schumer’s puppet,” Montana Republican Party Executive Director Spenser Merwin said. “If it only took one trip to Montana to bully him into running for Senate, can you imagine how easy it will be to get Bullock to vote for the Democrats’ socialist agenda.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.