Montana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid

The next chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA) will spend his term promoting job training and workforce development, an initiative that could be seen as the outlines of a presidential campaign message.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) will formally take the helm of the bipartisan group on Saturday in Santa Fe, N.M., where the nation’s governors are holed up for their annual leadership transition.
At the meeting, Bullock will lay out what he calls the Good Jobs for All Americans initiative, to investigate best practices for workforce development in parts of the country that have been left behind in the recovery from the Great Recession.
“Every single governor around the country faces a paradox. What we hear from employers time and time again is that one of their biggest challenges is having a trained workforce,” Bullock said in an interview Thursday.  “We’re trying to make sure we’re spreading out the success and opportunity throughout the country.”
Bullock said his initiative this year would focus on making sure states are developing the workforce of the future, one that is educated enough to take high-tech manufacturing jobs; training mid-career workers whose industries are evolving through increasing automation and globalization; and bolstering rural economies that have struggled to recover from the recession.
A report issued Thursday by Moody’s Investors Service found rural counties still have fewer jobs than they did a decade ago, before the recession hit. 
The number of prime working-age people living in rural counties has dropped 6.4 percent since 2010.
“There’s a whole lot of folks that are feeling that our country is starting to break. A broken economy means you’re not getting ahead, and rural America’s not getting ahead,” Bullock said.
Bullock, the two-term governor of a state that has voted Republican in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections, is one of the rare Democrats to survive in red states.
Only three Democratic governors won election in states Trump carried in 2016. The other two are West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is now a Republican, and Roy Cooper in North Carolina.
While the national Democratic Party and some of its potential 2020 candidates have carved out decidedly progressive agendas, Bullock has urged Democrats to focus their attentions on rural voters who have abandoned the party in droves.
That exodus cost Democrats in states like Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, all states Barack Obama won twice, but that flipped to President Trump in 2016.
Bullock’s focus on rural jobs amounts to the latest field test of a message that might become a pitch to primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bullock has not ruled out a run for president, and he has traveled to Iowa to campaign for the state’s Democratic attorney general. 
In the interview, Bullock said his attention lies in more immediate goals.
“Folks are focusing on the 2018 midterms. I’ve got a lot to do as governor. It’s great to be the NGA chair,” Bullock said. 
“I certainly believe I have an important voice to add to the conversation about how Dems go forward,” he added. “But I certainly haven’t made any decisions on what I do when I’m done serving as governor.”
The NGA has served as a springboard for presidential campaigns in the past. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) used his chairmanship in 2005 and 2006, when he focused on healthy living, to grow his name recognition ahead of his 2008 presidential campaign. 
Other former NGA chairmen included Tommy Thompson, Howard Dean, Tim Pawlenty, Lamar Alexander and Bill Clinton, all of whom launched presidential bids.
– Update at 11:20 p.m.
Tags 2020 election Barack Obama Bill Clinton Democratic Party Donald Trump job training Jobs Lamar Alexander National Governors Association
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