FAIRFIELD — Democratic presidential candidate Steve Bullock made campaign stops in Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant on Monday, Nov. 18.
Bullock spoke at the Riverside Restaurant III in Fairfield before traveling to Mt. Pleasant. He addressed a crowd packed tightly into the restaurant’s meeting room, touching on his experience as governor of Montana, a position he’s held since 2013. Before that, he was Montana’s attorney general from 2009-2013.
Bullock’s main message to the people in the diner and during his whole campaign is that the Democratic Party needs to be able to win back the counties and states that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but that flipped to Donald Trump in 2016. Bullock said that his ability to win in Montana, a state Trump carried in 2016 with 56 percent of the vote, is proof that he can appeal to Republican voters.
“I’m the candidate who can win back states like Iowa and Wisconsin to get to 270 electoral votes,” Bullock said, referring to the number of votes in the Electoral College a presidential candidate needs to win. “We can get 2 million more votes in California, and it’s not going to matter if we can’t win where it matters.”
Bullock said the secret to success, whether it’s in a liberal or conservative state, is being willing to listen to the public’s concerns instead of “telling them what they need.” He told a story about his 2015 visit to a small town in northwest Montana called Choteau, population 1,700. Just before his visit, a think tank affiliated with Charles and David Koch (commonly referred to collectively as the “Koch brothers”) had emailed everyone in town a flyer showing Bullock’s face next to that of President Barack Obama’s with an inscription that the two men pictured were coming to “take away your health care.”
Bullock said some members of that crowd were hostile, which he expected, but others showed that they were genuinely concerned about the future of health care. One man, a county supervisor, told Bullock that the hospital was an integral part of the town, and that if it ever closed, the town would be lost.
The Democratic field has shrunk in the past couple of months as candidates have dropped out of the race, but it’s still quite large, with 18 candidates still vying for the party’s nomination. Bullock acknowledged that polling has not shown him to be one of the front-runners, but he asked the voters in Fairfield not to count him out yet. He remarked that, at one point during the 2004 presidential candidate, eventual nominee John Kerry trailed Al Sharpton in the polls. He said Obama had a similarly meteoric rise in 2008 that led to the nomination and later the presidency.
Fairfield resident Brian McDonald listened to Bullock’s speech and came away with a positive impression of the governor. He fears that the Democratic Party will nominate a candidate who will turn off moderate voters, and that’s what he liked about Bullock. However, McDonald added that his top candidate is former Vice President Joe Biden.
A couple members of the audience drove all the way from Kirksville, Missouri, an hour and 40 minutes away. They were Fletch Ferg and Jaeuk Jeong, both sophomores at Truman State University. They are taking a class on communication and democracy, and their professor told them they could get extra credit if they attended a presidential campaign event in Iowa, and asked the candidate a question. Ferg and Jeong said they planned to attend Bullock’s campaign stop in Mt. Pleasant later that day, because their professor promised them even more credit if they went to two campaign stops.
Ferg said he is interested in presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s idea of a universal basic income, where everyone in the country would receive $1,000 a month, and was curious to get Bullock’s take on that. Ferg also said he’s interested in plans to forgive student loans. Jeong is from South Korea, and said that he’s still learning about America’s political system, and the issue that interests him the most is health care.
Bullock was asked about President Donald Trump’s decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine in June 2019. The U.S. House of Representatives is conducting an impeachment hearing to see if Trump froze the aid to get leverage over Ukraine in an attempt to get the country’s president to announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The question to Bullock was, if he wins the presidency in 2020, whether he would pursue an investigation of Trump’s conduct in office or whether he would “let bygones be bygones.”
“I think the next president should pursue criminal review to see what’s happened,” he said. “One thing we don’t talk about enough is that if this guy [Trump] gets reelected, the statute of limitations is going to run. I certainly wouldn’t promise to prosecute him, but I would have my Department of Justice to do a thorough investigation.”
A member of the audience asked Bullock for his thoughts about the judicial branch. Bullock said that the American Bar Association ranks judges on their quality and qualifications, and those rankings have often been used by the Senate to select and confirm judges to federal positions. He said the Trump administration seems to have ignored those rankings. Bullock added that he would be in favor of expanding the U.S. Supreme Court from nine to 11 justices.