HELENA, MONTANA - Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ended his Democratic presidential campaign Monday, becoming the third Western governor boasting executive experience and a Washington-outsider appeal to flame out in the contest.
The campaigns of Bullock, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper failed to gain momentum in a D.C.-centric race in which former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren dominated the polls for most of the past few months.
Bullock, a 53-year-old two-term governor and former attorney general, had the textbook resume for primary success in past presidential elections. He's a former labor lawyer and a gun owner whose governing record included expanding Medicaid in a red state. He touted across-the-aisle appeal, arguing he was the best bet to defeat President Donald Trump because he was the only Democratic candidate to win in a state that Trump won in 2016.
But instead of following Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on the path from the governor's mansion to the White House, Bullock sputtered. The crowded 2020 race has centered on national debates around Trump and impeachment, and the Democratic National Committee imposed tougher polling and fundraising thresholds to make the debate stage. Those thresholds favored those with national name recognition and established online networks, making it tough for Bullock and other newcomers to the national scene to get a toehold.
Bullock was also hobbled by his late start, announcing his candidacy in May and joining nearly two dozen other Democratic candidates competing for attention and campaign donations.
He struggled to raise money and register in the polls, managing to meet qualification thresholds for only one DNC debate, in July.
"While there were many obstacles we could not have anticipated when entering this race, it has become clear that in this moment, I won't be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates," Bullock said in a statement Monday.
The governor said that he ran to win back places Democrats have lost and end the influence of "dark money" in politics. Those concerns have not changed, he said, but he leaves the race "filled with gratitude and optimism, inspired and energized by the good people I've had the privilege of meeting over the course of the campaign."
Bullock flew to Iowa and notified his staff in person on Sunday that he was dropping out.
Unlike Hickenlooper, who dropped out in August to instead run for Senate, or Inslee, who decided to instead seek reelection, Bullock did not announce plans for another campaign.
Term limit laws prevent him from running for governor again in 2020, and he has repeatedly brushed off Democratic hopes that he'd instead run for Senate against first-term Republican Steve Daines. Bullock has said that he has no interest in the Senate seat and that there are already strong candidates running against Daines.
Bullock's spokeswoman, Galia Slayen, reiterated that Monday.
"While he plans to work hard to elect Democrats in the state and across the country in 2020, it will be in his capacity as a governor and a senior voice in the Democratic Party — not as a candidate for U.S. Senate," Slayen said in a statement.
Bullock had been exploring a presidential run since 2017, but he said he couldn't announce his candidacy until he had finished his work in Helena, where the state legislature was meeting.
He staked his presidential campaign on Iowa, and he made repeated trips to the state to campaign alongside prominent state Attorney General Tom Miller, the first statewide elected official in Iowa to endorse a 2020 candidate.
Bullock stuck strictly to his campaign message of needing to win back rural Trump voters, noting he won reelection the day that Trump carried his state by 20 percentage points. He also touted his history as a crusader to eliminate the influence of anonymous and foreign money in elections.
But he remained at the bottom of the polls and unfamiliar to many voters. His biggest national exposure appeared to come when he didn't make the cut for the first debate, resulting in a slate of news stories and an appearance on "The Late Night with Stephen Colbert."
Bullock was Montana's attorney general for a term before he became governor in 2013. Before that, he worked as an assistant attorney general, as an attorney in private practice in Helena and for law firms in New York and Washington, D.C.