BELLEVUE — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock brought his fledgling presidential campaign to the Puget Sound region Monday night, pitching himself as the only Democratic candidate who’s won a statewide campaign in a state won by President Donald Trump.
Bullock, who’s made fighting the “toxic influence of money in politics” the cornerstone of his campaign, described a political system that has been swallowed by dark money since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which he said has touched all aspects of modern politics.
It was the second straight day that one of the nearly two-dozen Democratic presidential candidates stumped in the Seattle region.
But this was a very different event from the day before.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke to an estimated 15,000 people in Seattle on Sunday. Bullock spoke to about 30 people at a fundraiser at The Riveter, a Bellevue co-w0rking space, on Monday night.
Bullock, who only launched his campaign in May, touted his record of progressive accomplishments as a two-term Democratic governor in a very conservative state, which he said put him in the strongest position to defeat Trump.
Working with a Legislature that has never been less than 60% Republican, Bullock said they’ve been able to freeze tuition at Montana’s public colleges, boost mental-health and substance-abuse services and expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, something that’s been notoriously difficult to do in many conservative states.
He talked about his push to expand Medicaid in 2015, when he’d go into tiny towns where every resident had just got a mailer funded by the conservative Koch brothers with his face and President Barack Obama’s face, “cheeks touching,” promising they were “coming to destroy your health care.”
But, he said, that by listening to people’s concerns, they got “beyond the political divide.” Medicaid expansion brought health insurance to about 100,000 people in Montana.
Bullock won reelection in 2016 by 4 percentage points, at the same time that Trump won the state by 20.
“If we want to win back some of those red and purple areas, maybe we should have somebody on the top of the ticket who has actually won in a red or purple area,” he said. “Because if we can’t win those places, we’re not going to win.”
Bullock is not going to qualify for September’s debates. He’s met neither the donor nor the polling threshold set by the Democratic National Committee. He said he’s long been loathe to spend his time doing cable-news appearances, but he was realizing that he may have to change his tune.
“I’ve actually made progress in people’s lives,” he said.
“But people don’t know that,” an audience member shot back.
“I know,” he said. “That’s why you’re here, I’ve got to get that out.”
Bullock pushed for and passed strict campaign-finance restrictions in Montana that mandate disclosure for any group spending money to influence a campaign, within 90 days of an election.
“The Koch brothers did a big mailing across the state,” Bullock said, describing the run up to his last election. “On day 90, it stopped. For the last three months of the election it was back to about the candidates, not the dark money.”
From exorbitant prescription-drug prices, to the Republican tax cut passed in 2017, to the widespread denial of climate science, Bullock pointed to unfettered political spending as a root cause of America’s political woes.
He’s said he would sign an executive order requiring any company that does business with the federal government to disclose all money they spend “to influence our elections.”
Samantha Zager, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, on Monday issued a statement calling Bullock a “no-name governor” who “continues to pander to the far-left.”
Bullock, in his remarks Monday, criticized the billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who recently joined the Democratic presidential race, for his efforts to “buy his way onto the debate stage.”
Steyer, since joining the contest, has spent millions of dollars on online ads, trying to solicit small donations in an effort to qualify for September’s debates.
Peggy Hutchison, a doctor from Bellevue, said she’s looking for a moderate who will support the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights and the environment.
“I think a moderate candidate is more likely to win,” she said. “I don’t think America is ready for a socialist.”
Vivian Strolis, whose family comes from Montana, said she’d “never heard a negative word” about Bullock.
“He can bring people together,” she said. “No pie in the sky stuff.”