- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 4, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday that he doesn’t know what’s next for him after his long-shot presidential bid fizzled, but he knows one thing for sure: He’s not running for Senate.

Bullock said repeatedly during his first news conference since he suspended his presidential campaign that he won’t challenge first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

“I’ve said before, during and after that I’m not going to be running for Senate,” Bullock said. “I’ve made that clear, that’s just not what I want to do.”

That may dash the hopes of some Democrats who saw Bullock as the party’s best chance for flipping Daines‘ seat. Democrats would need to gain four seats - or three seats and the vice president’s tie-breaking vote - to win control of the Senate.

The governor said he will spend his final year in office thinking about his next move, and that he would consider a Cabinet position if a Democrat defeats President Donald Trump next year and offers him one.

“If a president-elect called, you’d have to take the call,“ Bullock said. ”But right now, look, I’m focusing, I still get to do this job for a year and there’s still a lot more to do.”

Bullock said he dropped out of the presidential race Monday because he realized he wouldn’t be able to break through the crowded field and into the top tier of candidates by the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. He attributed the failure in part to getting into the race late and not meeting the criteria to participate in televised debates, but he acknowledged it also may be that his moderate message didn’t appeal to enough voters.

“It may well be that voters just weren’t looking for me, what I had to offer this time,” he said.

Without Bullock bringing his name recognition to the Montana Senate race, the chances of the Democrats ousting Daines is slim, Montana political analysts said.

Four Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination for Senate: Wilmot Collins, John Mues, Michael Knoles and Cora Neumann. The most well-known among them is Collins, the mayor of Helena and a former refugee from Liberia, but he had raised just $177,000 by the end of the last reporting period, compared to Daines‘ $5.3 million in fundraising.

Even Bullock would have had an uphill battle to defeat an incumbent Republican in a presidential election year after Trump won Montana by a landslide in 2016, Parker and Carroll College political scientist Jeremy Johnson said.

Daines has solid Republican credentials in the Senate and hasn’t done anything over his term to upset his supporters back home, Johnson said.

“Bullock would be running against a well-known political incumbent, it’s not an open seat,” Johnson said. “He could potentially be competitive, but it’s unclear whether it would be a 50-50 shot or less than that. “

Bullock simply may not want to be one of 100 legislators in the Senate after 12 years of being the top executive as attorney general and governor, Parker said.

But Bullock also may have decided it’s not worth the effort needed to quickly raise the $12 million to $15 million he’d need to take on Daines after getting a late start, “for what might be a 30%-40% chance at best,” Parker said.

Bullock declined to say why he won’t run, just that it is a personal decision. But he said he thinks Daines is vulnerable and that he will help whoever wins the Democratic nomination for Senate next year.


This story has been updated to correct the date of the Iowa caucuses to Feb. 3, not January.

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