Bullock’s decision came after months of insisting he would not run, and on the last possible day to file to enter the race. Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), had relentlessly worked to convince Bullock to run, peppering him with phone calls and enlisting former President Barack Obama and major labor unions in the effort.
Bullock, a popular second-term governor who quit the 2020 presidential race in December, won reelection in Montana with a majority of the vote in 2016, even as President Donald Trump won the state by 20 percentage points. Senate Democrats largely saw him as the party’s best, if not only hope of defeating Daines.
In his launch video, Bullock promised to “make Washington work more like Montana” and focused on his accomplishments on campaign finance, public lands and education as governor.
Republicans have long viewed Bullock as a threat, and a super PAC controlled by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aired ads attacking him in the state even while he was still running for president.
“Steve Bullock ran his administration like a frat house and acquiesced to the far left during his comical presidential run, not exactly the strongest way to launch a Senate campaign,” said Nathan Brand, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Bullock supported impeaching President Trump, wants to ban guns, and ignore illegal immigration. One can see why, given their visceral disdain for the Montana way of life, Washington Democrats rolled out the red carpet for Bullock.”
Daines, a former business executive running for his second term in the Senate, has allied himself closely with Trump.
During his presidential bid, Bullock was dismissive of a position in the Senate, arguing his skills were better suited for the executive branch. He struggled to gain any sort of traction in the crowded Democratic field, barely registering in national polls, raising little money and only qualifying for a single debate.
In the run-up to his presidential bid, Bullock adopted left-leaning positions on gun control, calling for an assault weapons ban. Republicans are likely to attack his stance in a state that has the sixth-highest rate of gun ownership in the country.
In a sign of Democratic optimism, the Progressive Turnout Project, which works to get Democratic voters to the polls, announced plans to spend $750,000 in the state and to open field offices in Montana’s six largest cities. The group will target 256,000 voters.
Democrats need to win at least three Senate seats to oust McConnell from the majority leader’s office. The party has long been confident about the chances of former Gov. John Hickenlooper to defeat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado, and former astronaut Mark Kelly to oust Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona. But the likelihood Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones may lose his seat meant the party needed to find additional opportunities.
Some opportunities have appeared: Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon appears prepared to give the once-beloved GOP Sen. Susan Collins a tough race, and Democrats are optimistic about businesswoman Theresa Greenfield’s ability to challenge Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa.