Senate Democrats further expanded a 2020 map that was already providing them plenty of pick-up opportunities to add one more, by convincing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge Republican Sen. Steve Daines.
Bullock’s decision comes after months of resistance following his failed presidential bid. The term-limited governor’s change of heart on the final day of filing puts a seat that was not in play firmly into the competitive column. This race now moves from Solid Republican to Lean Republican.
Furthermore, Bullock’s entrance gives Democrats more possible paths to a Senate majority. It increases the likelihood of such a takeover at a time when many things are looking up for the party. Including the fact former Vice President Joe Biden is the odds-on favorite to secure the Democratic nomination for president, quelling fears of what harm a Sanders nomination could wreak down-ballot.
To flip the Senate, Democrats need to net four total seats or three with a White House victory. Even with Alabama increasingly looking like it will go to Republicans, Democrats still have several chances to pick up four seats. Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina are all in the Toss Up column, while GOP primary fights in Kansas and the Georgia special election have given Democrats openings. Now Montana is added to that list, with other states like Iowa on the cusp.
It’s easy to see why Democrats wanted to put another competitive state on that list — giving them even more options and forcing Republicans to spend more money in an ever-expanding map — and they couldn’t have done so without wooing the popular Bullock into the race.
Despite ending his White House campaign in early December, Bullock had remained resolute that he wasn’t interested in running for the Senate. But in recent weeks, Democrats turned on the charm offensive and arm twisting pretty hard to woo Bullock into this race, dispatching not just Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer but also former President Obama to plead with him for the good of the party.
Still, a federal race is a very different beast, especially in a presidential year in a state that President Trump carried by 20 points and where he remains very popular. Republicans point to other red state former Democratic governors who have tried — and failed — to make such a switch, including Tennessee’s Phil Bredesen last cycle and Ohio’s Ted Strickland in 2016. But Bullock has the benefit of being the incumbent governor in the news, not several years removed from office. And he’s won each term despite the GOP presidential nominee handily winning the state — outperforming Hillary Clinton by 15 points in 2016 and Obama by 7 points in 2012. And Montanans have shown a willingness to split their tickets, with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester repeatedly winning close contests.
Republicans have long been preparing Bullock to change his mind, and Daines and his team have readied for such an event, ending 2019 with $5 million in the bank. While Bullock got little traction during his short White House run last year, they do aim to use some of the positions he took against him, including banning assault weapons and supporting Trump’s impeachment. Republicans are salivating at other opposition research too.
Montana is now poised to host a marquee race that could well determine control of the Senate. Both parties feel confident about their chances, and once this contest is fully engaged, it could end up in the Toss Up column. For now, we’re starting it in Lean Republican. This is perhaps the final major development in the battle for the Senate, and one that gives Democrats a boon.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File