A Republican-aligned super PAC is taking aim at Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — not because of the Democrat’s presidential bid, but because of a prospective Senate bid.
The Senate Leadership Fund, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, bought a five-figure digital ad campaign attacking Mr. Bullock for spending time outside the state on the presidential campaign trail.
The ad makes no mention of his potential challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines, but GOP sources say that is why the Senate Leadership Fund took the unusual step of hitting a candidate not openly campaigning for the Senate.
The 60-second ad, titled “Out of Towner,” commemorates Mr. Bullock’s 100th day outside Montana running for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to the Senate Leadership Fund. The ad shows a cartoon “Bullock for Prez” plane jetting across the country to stops in San Francisco, New York and Washington and labels Mr. Bullock “Out of touch with Montana.”
Term limits prevent the Montana Democrat from running for governor again, and his presidential campaign surrogates and spokespeople have repeatedly said that he has no interest in running for the Senate. Mr. Bullock, however, reportedly discussed his political future with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer this year, and other Senate Democrats have publicly called for him to challenge Mr. Daines.
Some Republicans think Mr. Bullock may follow in the footsteps of former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado Democrat, and ditch a long shot 2020 presidential bid for the chance to flip a GOP-controlled Senate seat. The Senate Leadership Fund’s ad appears to be the sort of preemptive fire Republicans hope dissuades Mr. Bullock from copying Mr. Hickenlooper.
“Even if Bullock goes back on his word, he faces a long shot bid against Steve Daines,” said a GOP source familiar with the Montana Senate race. “Between Daines’ popularity in the state and Trump at the top of the ticket, there is no path for Bullock to the U.S. Senate. Daines won in 2014 by nearly 18 points and Trump won the state in 2016 by more than 20 points.”
Mr. Bullock purchased television ads of his own in the early presidential caucus state of Iowa last week to boost his fledgling 2020 campaign that has not gained much traction. Mr. Bullock was absent from last week’s nationally televised Democratic presidential debate after failing to meet the qualifying threshold.
If Mr. Bullock does ditch the presidential campaign trail for a U.S. Senate campaign, his Republican opponents intend to use his failed 2020 campaign as political ammunition against him.
“The only thing Steve Bullock accomplished during his presidential campaign is lurching to the left on virtually every major issue,” said a Republican strategist familiar with the Montana Senate race. “Should he decide to run for Montana Senate, his radical liberal agenda will be tattooed across his forehead.”
Mr. Bullock’s presidential campaign did not respond to request for comment.
• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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