Can Bullock's secret sauce for winning a red state land Democrats the White House?

Can Bullock's secret sauce for winning a red state land Democrats the White House?

Donald Trump won the presidency by defying the laws of political gravity. Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockTrump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post Lincoln Project releases new pro-Biden ad in swing states The Hill's Campaign Report: Progressives feel momentum after primary night MORE of Montana has done the same thing by winning three statewide campaigns as a progressive Democrat in a red state.

Bullock is a fish out of water. He’s pro-choice, in favor of marriage equality and fought successfully for Medicaid expansion in Montana. All that in a state that’s red enough to be a float in the annual Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day,

Montana, like many states in the interior West, was a hotbed of economic populism in the late 19th century. Populism in Montana grew out of the ferocious battles between union miners and the Cooper Kings, the mine owners.


Bullock refers to his state’s populist heritage in his announcement video. Bullock has found a way of tapping into the populist legacy. Other Democrats might want to it a try. To paraphrase Populist Party leader Mary Elizabeth Lease, Democrats should raise less corporate money and more hell.

Bullock was elected state attorney general in 2008. There’s a joke that “AG” stands for aspiring governor and this certainly was the case with him. He was elected governor in 2012 and reelected in 2016. He was the only Democrat in a state that President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE won to win reelection that year. Trump won the state by 20 percent but Bullock survived the red tide. Go figure!

The best of the West

Bullock is one of the three Democrats running for president who have served as governor of a Western state. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBarr praises Seattle police chief as officers clear protest zone OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 MORE of Washington and John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Hickenlooper beats back progressive challenge in Colorado primary MORE of Colorado are the other two. A Western governor would be an attractive nominee. Trump has defaulted on his promise to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. A candidate from the west with little or no experience in the nation’s capital would be able to run as the outsider who would clean up the mess.

The population of the United States is moving west and so should the Democratic Party. The Republican Party in recent history has generated two presidents from Texas and two from California. The Democratic Party has failed to produce a Western president and it’s about time it does. President Obama was born in Hawaii but his career in politics was in Illinois.


Democrats do well on the West Coast, but the interior West is tough turf for Democrats. The Democratic party has become a coastal party and conceded the electoral votes and congressional seats in the great American heartland. Bullock expressed his concern about the failure of Democrats to compete in red states when he said, “We can’t write off parts of the country because we didn’t do well there in 2016.”

Money is the root of all evil 

Bullock’s announcement video dramatizes his concern about the corrupting influence of big money in politics. Campaign finance reform plays a prominent role in Bullock’s career and in his presidential campaign. As attorney general and as governor, he successfully fought for some of the toughest laws in the nation on campaign funding.

The governor makes the case for the urgency he attaches to the danger of toxic political money on his campaign website: “Washington has been so thoroughly corrupted by Big Money that it has been unable to tackle its biggest challenges. Millionaires get huge tax cuts, while average Americans are left behind, and inequality hit record highs.”

Bullock is right because big money in politics is the root of all evil. It’s hard to see Congress fighting climate change while the fossil fuels industry pumps millions of dollars into political campaigns and lobbying. The same is true when Congress ignores public opinion and fails to act against gun violence because of the outsized influence of the National Rifle Association. 

Assets and liabilities

Bullock starts out at the back of the Democratic pack. He got to the starting gate late and has little name recognition outside of his home state. But he does have an impressive progressive record to run on. He served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, so he does have the national contacts necessary to raise the money he needs to become a force in the Democratic presidential campaign. He also has an endorsement that is worth its weight in gold from Tom Miller the attorney general of Iowa.

He might have been better off running for the U.S. Senate against freshman Republican Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post Political establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme Lincoln Project releases new pro-Biden ad in swing states MORE. He is one of the three Democrats, along with Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Hickenlooper in the presidential race who Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE wanted to run as part of his campaign to become majority leader.

Bullock may not win the nomination, but Democrats need to find out what the secret sauce is that allows a progressive like Bullock to win in a red state. Then the party should bottle it and distribute it to candidates across the nation.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

This is the 17th piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)Mayor Pete ButtigiegSen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).