Can Steve Bullock win?

The gold leaf Hamptons in New York are about as far as one can get from Helena in Montana. In the Hamptons, it is all about Christian Louboutin sandals. In Helena, cowboy boots are more likely. In the Hamptons, a haircut can cost a small fortune. In Helena, well, see Jon Tester. This past Saturday, under twinkling patio lights at a catered barbecue, Montana Governor Steve Bullock made a persuasive case to the cream of the Hamptons crop that he has a path to the presidency. He won over many guests whose elbows are chaffed from rubbing them with candidates.

The end of summer draws national political figures to the Hamptons like President Trump to Twitter. Trump himself held two events there earlier this month. Former Vice President Joe Biden will be in town this weekend. Washington Governor Jay Inslee just left. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is coming soon. One congested road stretches more than 30 miles through waterfront and farm estate soirees in the tony hamlets of Wainscott, Amagansett, and Bridgehampton. Past Bobby Van, Ralph Lauren, and Jimmy Choo is where champagne glasses clink and the commuter line is the rumbling path of helicopters flying back and forth to Manhattan.

So came Bullock, not raising money, but viability. His principal argument is that if he can win in red Montana, he can win in the seven bellwether states of the Electoral College. In 2016, Trump carried Montana with more than 50 percent of the vote. Bullock won his race with 50 percent of the vote. It is notable that about 20 percent to 30 percent of Montana voters supported Trump, then crossed over to back the Democratic governor.

Reconnecting with those swing voters while turning out the base will be critical for Democrats in 2020. “In Montana, you have to do both,” Bullock said. It is a compelling case and taps into a strong pragmatism coursing through the blue veins of Democrats. In a Gallup Poll earlier this summer, 58 percent of Democrats and independents who lean left prioritize the ability of a candidate to beat Trump over views on important issues.

The challenge for Bullock now is qualifying for the debates next month in Houston, by receiving 130,000 donations and 2 percent in four qualifying polls. It will not be easy given his late entry into the race. “My Republican legislature was in session, and I was fighting for Medicare expansion,” he explained. Bullock is not exactly a household name. But he has a network and served as chairman of the National Governors Association. He is tilling the ground in Iowa, “often shepherded” by Attorney General Tom Miller, a mentor who may chair his campaign there, The Hill reported this spring.

His homespun appeal won over many of the dinner guests last weekend. He hit the progressive chords on immigration, training a future workforce, and resetting foreign policy, while also demonstrating how to stay in tune with swing voters. That will be essential across swing counties such as Kenosha in Wisconsin, Erie in Pennsylvania, Maricopa in Arizona, Saginaw in Michigan, and about 20 other crucial places needed to win the election.

Bullock left dinner with a “to go” plate of meat and fish and the support of many guests under the tent that night out in Hamptons. Even those who already have a first preference were moved to make him their second. In a volatile and unpredictable political environment, keep your eyes on any candidate who can win them over in both the Hamptons and Helena.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Democrats Donald Trump Election Gallup Government Steve Bullock Steve Israel

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