Bullock opens Iowa bid pitching rural credentials

Bullock opens Iowa bid pitching rural credentials
© Reid Wilson

DES MOINES -- Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve Bullock2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown Bullock: Missing first debate not a 'blow to my campaign' 2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories MORE (D) told Iowa Democrats that their party needs to move beyond its traditional big urban core bases in order to win back the White House, opening his first official stop as a presidential candidate in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Bullock, who launched his presidential campaign Tuesday, touted his own small-town roots in Helena, and his electoral wins in a solidly red state to a group of about 125 voters at a sweltering brewery in a state President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE won by nine points in 2016.

"Whether it's Montana or Iowa, whether it's Michigan or Wisconsin, we can't just go to places where we always win," Bullock said. "We can't just talk to our party's base all the time."

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Even as regional hub cities like Des Moines have recovered and grown after the recession, rural parts of the country — including many Iowa counties — are hurting. About two-thirds of counties with populations under 50,000 have lost residents since 2010, according to Census Bureau estimates, and many of those counties have continued to hemorrhage businesses that provide needed jobs.

"Nobody should have to leave their home, their community, their church, just to make a decent living," Bullock said. "For far too many people, the American dream no longer exists, and for far too many it never has existed."

The two-term governor has work to do in Iowa, where just 18 percent of Democrats told Monmouth University pollsters in April they knew enough about him to have formed an opinion, fewer than the number of Iowa Democrats who have formed an opinion of businessman Andrew YangAndrew Yang2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown Overnight Health Care: Key Trump drug pricing proposal takes step forward | Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic loses bid for license | 2020 Democrats to take part in Saturday forum on abortion rights Nonprofit praises Andrew Yang's local news fellowship initiative MORE or Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetInslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE (D-Colo.).

But he begins his campaign with at least one significant advantage none of his rivals can claim: A formal endorsement from perhaps the best-known Democratic officeholder in the state.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D), who has served in office for 36 years, endorsed Bullock this week and introduced him Thursday night.

"He's not on our left end, like some of our candidates are," Miller said of Bullock. "He's not a moderate, he's a progressive. He's right in the middle of our party."

In an interview with The Hill, Bullock said his electoral record would set him apart from the other nearly two-dozen candidates who have joined the field.

"I am the only one of them that actually won in a Trump state, got re-elected in 2016 when Donald Trump was on the ballot," Bullock told The Hill. "Fundamentally, we have to win back some of the places we've lost if we're going to win in 2020."

"It's not just about winning elections. I've actually with a legislature that's at best 60 percent Republican been able to get progressive things done," he said.

Bullock launched his campaign with a pledge to fight back against the influence of big money in politics. As attorney general, he led a legal defense of Montana's ban on corporate spending in state elections after the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC ruling. The court ruled against Montana's century-old law.

He said the next president can work through Congress to ban corporate and so-called dark money in other ways. In Montana, Bullock won passage of measures limiting corporate spending in the months leading up to an election.

"We don't have to wait just to get a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court," Bullock told the crowd. "If we can kick the Koch brothers out of Montana, we can sure as hell kick them out every place else."