Guest Columnist

Considering Bullock's presidential qualities

Democratic presidential candidate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock arrives at a campaign event in Jefferson, Iowa, in June. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Joshua Lott
Democratic presidential candidate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock arrives at a campaign event in Jefferson, Iowa, in June. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Joshua Lott

Democrats will end up voting for whomever their convention picks next July. This column is too early for an endorsement. My favorite among the leaders will be someone as a campaigner who can beat President Donald Trump, and as president will have the competence, compassion, relationships, experience and ethics to be effective.

Get out the vote? Yes. But to win in November 2020 the Democrats’ candidate will have to win over independents, Libertarians, Greens, and yes, Republicans and the 40-percent-plus of voters who still support President Donald Trump. Where do those voters live? Where Democrats must go to become a national party: those 80 percent of U.S. counties that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Earlier I wrote about Marianne Williamson’s formula for Democrats’ victory — while acknowledging her odds of becoming the party’s candidate were somewhere between slim and none. (The Gazette, Aug. 17) Gov. Steve Bullock’s current odds may be no better. But his qualities and strengths are something Democrats should look for in whomever they choose next July.

Bullock is the only incumbent Democratic governor to win reelection in a state that Trump carried (in Montana by 20 points).

He’s persuaded his Republican legislature to pass progressive programs: campaign finance reform, climate change, Medicaid expansion and more. He is, as we say, mostly “right on the issues,” both as governor and as campaigner.

He’s been sufficiently pro-labor as Montana’s attorney general, governor and practicing lawyer to have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO — and Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller. And he’s sufficiently respected by other governors to chair their National Governors Association.

He is a young 53. I have two sons older than that.

He and his wife, Lisa, grew up in Montana; have been married to each other for 20 years and have three children. Both are well educated; he has a law degree, with honors, from Columbia, she a degree in mathematics and computer science.

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He comes across as genuine, comfortable in his skin and his Levi’s. He can connect with small town folk, farmers, ranchers, and others in the mountain time zone and the 80 percent of counties Trump carried, as well as Washington (where he practiced law) and New Hampshire, where he’s picked up support.

We have no training program for presidents. Any president would benefit from experience on the receiving end of the White House’s impact on school boards, cities, counties, state governors, legislatures, the U.S. House and Senate, military, intelligence and executive branch agencies, federal courts, international organizations and our allies.

No Democratic presidential candidate today has the range of experience in those venues possessed by President George H.W. Bush (43’s father) or former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

“Senator” is not an administrative position. Governors come the closest to the administrative and legislative challenges confronting presidents; 17 presidents had experience as governors.

Whomever the Democrats ultimately choose, Bullock provides examples of the strengths they should be looking for.

Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is a three-time presidential appointee whose latest book about Washington is “Catfish Solution.” Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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