Left off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa

Left off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa
© Getty Images

When 10 Democratic presidential candidates share a debate stage in Houston on Thursday, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPress: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE (D) will be a few hundred miles away, stumping across Iowa.

Bullock, one of more than half a dozen Democratic candidates who missed out on qualifying for Thursday’s debate, is refocusing his campaign on Iowa, mounting a long-shot effort to break through with a surprise result in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

“I think that the debate is missing something without me in it. But you know, we still know that we’re 5 1/2 months from the Iowa caucus, which is the first time that actual voters get to express a preference,” Bullock told The Hill in an interview. “The early states always take a big field and narrow it down.”


“Principally, what I’ve done in these first I guess 13 weeks I’ve been in [the race], is actually spend a lot of time talking to voters and spend a lot of time in Iowa,” he said.

Bullock and several other low-polling contenders have criticized the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE, for the donor and polling thresholds candidates must meet to qualify for the debates. They say the rules — which require candidates to receive donations from 130,000 individuals and to hit 2 percent or more in qualifying polls — force them to spend exorbitant amounts of money attracting donations, rather than communicating with voters.

“It’s actually voters who get to decide who we nominate, not these rules. Ideally, I’ll get 130,000 donors. But equally important, I’ll try to be out talking to 130,000 voters,” he said. 

Bullock, the only Democratic candidate in the field who has won statewide election in a state Trump carried, said the rules have disproportionately hurt governors in the race, who did not begin with the vast fundraising networks that senators can build. The two other governors in the field, Washington’s Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE (D) and Colorado’s John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperKrystal Ball dismisses Rahm Emanuel's 'Medicare for All' criticism as a 'corporatist mantra' Trump says remark about Colorado border wall was made 'kiddingly' Colorado governor mocks Trump for saying he's building wall there MORE (D), have already ended their bids.

“The day that they announced they started at zero, they couldn’t transfer money over from federal committees. We have an important voice in this party, and we don’t want this to be a party just of insiders in D.C.,” Bullock said. “If we’re serious about being a party of more than just D.C. and the coasts, we should actually be disappointed that we’re relying on these arbitrary guidelines.”

As the leading contenders descend on Houston, Bullock will spend Thursday in Des Moines and Clive with a big name in Iowa politics — former first lady Christie Vilsack. Neither Vilsack nor her husband, former Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE (D), have endorsed a candidate, though they are offering advice and introducing candidates to voters.

The next day, Bullock will land a prime spot on "Iowa Press," Iowa Public Television’s weekly public affairs show.

The swing will be Bullock’s 11th through Iowa since he announced his bid for the White House. He has hired 25 field organizers, about a quarter the size of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment Biden: 'I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears' than anyone else running MORE’s team, but he is the only candidate to have won a coveted endorsement from a statewide officeholder. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D) backs Bullock, himself a former attorney general.

State Auditor Rob Sand (D) and state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald (D) have both stayed neutral so far in the race.