Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Is Steve Bullock the only Democratic presidential candidate to have won in a Trump state?

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democratic candidate for president, speaks at a May 7 campaign event at Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House in Newton. To his right is Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who has endorsed Bullock. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democratic candidate for president, speaks at a May 7 campaign event at Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House in Newton. To his right is Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who has endorsed Bullock. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democratic presidential candidate, on Nov. 6 announced two new TV ads running in Iowa. In the 30-second “Responsibility” ad, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says he’s supporting Bullock because “Steve is the only Democrat who’s won a state that Trump won.”

Analysis

The Fact Checker is checking this statement because it’s in an ad airing in Iowa and because it’s from one of Iowa’s top elected officials, who happens to be the longest-serving attorney general in the nation.

When Miller endorsed Bullock in May, Miller said he’d been friends with Bullock for 10 years.

Miller didn’t specifically say in the claim that he was talking about elections held in the same year, though that is implied. Nonetheless, we’ll take a more expansive look to make sure the candidates get the benefit of any doubt.

Graded an A

There were 18 Democratic candidates in the race as of Thursday. (And please, let no other candidates jump in between then and now to mess up this check.)

They fall into several camps with respect to this claim.

First there are the candidates who have never held elected office. So they’re easy to mark off the list as not winning a state President Donald Trump won. These include New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson.

Next is the group of U.S. senators currently representing states that went for Hillary Clinton — not Trump — in 2016. These include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii won election in a state that supported Clinton.

Here we’ll tack on John Delaney because he’s a former U.S. representative from Maryland, a Clinton state, and Deval Patrick, a former Massachusetts governor.

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Now we get to candidates who won elections in states that went for Trump in 2016. These are South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam. These wins could be viewed as signs these Democrats can pull Republican and independent support, which bodes well for a general election — although some of the wins were in Democratic-leaning areas of more conservative states.

Bullock’s ad says he’s the “only Democrat who’s won a state that Trump won,” meaning won the whole state, not just a pocket of voters. Bullock was reelected Montana governor in 2016 with 50 percent of the vote, beating Republican Greg Gianforte, who had 46 percent, CNN reported.

This brings us to Joe Biden. He represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009. Delaware went for Clinton in 2016, so Biden can’t challenge Bullock’s claim on that front.

But when Biden ran for vice president on the ticket with Barack Obama, they won a whole bunch of states — including Iowa — that Trump flipped in 2016.

Since Biden wasn’t the headliner, we don’t think he gets credit for winning these states on his own. After all, in a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of Americans surveyed in an open-ended question could not name Biden as the sitting vice president. That isn’t necessarily a dig on Biden, but reflects the limited knowledge some Americans have of the vice president.

Conclusion

Bullock is right he’s the only Democratic presidential candidate to win a statewide race in a state Trump won in 2016. We give Bullock and Miller an A for accuracy.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan of The Gazette.

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