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Never Mind the Senate Here’s the Bullock

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Of all the Democrats passing up Senate challenges for long-shot-at-best presidential runs, this is the most ridiculous one yet:

Democratic leaders are convinced that Steve Bullock, the popular governor of Montana, would give the party its best shot at unseating Senator Steve Daines, a freshman Republican, when he stands for re-election next year in a state that President Trump carried by 20 points.

But Mr. Bullock has a bigger — if far less attainable — aspiration: running for president.

And so it has gone for Democratic leaders as they struggle to recruit a solid slate of candidates that they will need to net the three or four seats necessary to take control of the Senate next year. Four top-tier potential Democratic Senate candidates — John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Mr. Bullock — are seriously exploring presidential campaigns, forsaking statewide campaigns within their grasp, at least for now, for a national one that would be the longest of long shots.

A fifth potential recruit, Richard Ojeda, resigned his State Senate seat in West Virginia to run for president, only to withdraw last month — without committing to challenge Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

One one hand, Montana is the kind of context where candidate quality matters enormously in a statewide race — Bullock would have a very solid chance of getting the Senate seat back, but Generic Dem wouldn’t. On the other hand, Bullock’s chances of being the Democratic nominee in 2020 are 0%. So what gives? I guess there are two possibilities:

  • He’s deluded enough to think he could actually win. Seems hard to believe but you never know.
  • He’s running for something else by running for president. More likely, although I think some pols are really overestimating how much running for president per se makes you more likely to get prominent positions.  Sure, John Edwards got on the ticket and Ben Carson got a cabinet sinecure, but they actually got traction (Edwards was the runner-up, Carson had a double-digit lead in Iowa in fall 2015.) It’s not really obvious to me what Bullock is running for that he’s going to get by finishing 23rd in Iowa or whatever.  And, sure, Joe Biden got on the ticket after his trademark gaffe-filled zero-delegate primary performance, but he had also been a prominent senator for decades. More relevant examples for Bullock would be your Jim Webbs and Lincoln Chafees and George Patakis and Jeb! Bushes and Jim Gilmores who aren’t doing anything they couldn’t have done without their vanity presidential campaigns.

The other thing I don’t get is that if you want to be Important, and especially if your brand is Sensible Centrist…being a marginal vote in the United States Senate is one of the most powerful jobs in the country! You generally get favorable press coverage! I’m not sure why you’d pass up a real chance at that to increase your chances of being Secretary of the Interior for a few years by 5% or whatever it is that Bullock is doing.

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