How Unique Is Steve Bullock’s Political Resume?

Just four out of 53 Democratic candidates since 1996 were sitting statewide officeholders in states last won by the GOP presidential nominee

As one of just a few bona fide Democratic candidates who failed to qualify for the initial debates, Montana’s Steve Bullock is doubling down on his importance to the 2020 field – touting his credentials of serving as governor of a state that Donald Trump carried by 20 points in 2016.

Of course, several of Bullock’s rivals were victorious for political office in ‘Trump states’ – but they never won a statewide election: former Texas U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, Ohio U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, former San Antonio (Texas) Mayor Julian Castro, Miramar (Florida) Mayor Wayne Messam, and South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

And so, among the 24 Democratic hopefuls, Bullock is the only sitting statewide officeholder from a state won by Trump. [Note: Former Alaska U.S. Senator Mike Gravel won his second and final term in that Trump state in 1974].

While such a political biography is not unprecedented for a Democratic presidential candidate, it has been a rarity over the last quarter century.

During the last seven election cycles since 1996, just four of the more than 50 Democratic White House hopefuls held an elected statewide office in a state carried by the Republican presidential nominee in the previous election cycle.

In addition to Bullock, the remaining three are:

  • 2004: Florida U.S. Senator Bob Graham
  • 2004: North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards
  • 2008: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

However, unlike Trump’s 20.2-point win in Montana, George W. Bush carried these states by comparatively narrow margins: by 0.01 points in Florida in 2000, by 12.8 points in North Carolina in 2000, and by 0.8 points in New Mexico in 2004.

Only Edwards’ campaign made any kind of splash – carrying two states in the 2004 Democratic primaries (his home state and neighboring South Carolina).

During this seven-cycle span, just three other Democrats were former statewide officeholders in states that had voted for the GOP nominee in the last cycle – all in 2008: Edwards, Gravel, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

By contrast, during the six cycles from 1972 through 1992, Democrats saw nearly two-dozen candidates with Bullock’s credentials run for president:

  • 1972: Oklahoma U.S. Senator Fred Harris
  • 1972: Indiana U.S. Senator Vance Hartke
  • 1972: South Dakota U.S. Senator George McGovern
  • 1976: Washington U.S. Senator Scoop Jackson
  • 1976: Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp
  • 1976: Indiana U.S. Senator Birch Bayh
  • 1976: Alabama Governor George Wallace
  • 1976: West Virginia U.S. Senator Robert Byrd
  • 1976: California Governor Jerry Brown
  • 1976: Idaho U.S. Senator Frank Church
  • 1980: California Governor Jerry Brown
  • 1984: California U.S. Senator Alan Cranston
  • 1984: Colorado U.S. Senator Gary Hart
  • 1984: South Carolina U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings
  • 1984: Ohio U.S. Senator John Glenn
  • 1988: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis
  • 1988: Illinois U.S. Senator Paul Simon
  • 1988: Delaware U.S. Senator Joe Biden
  • 1988: Tennessee U.S. Senator Al Gore
  • 1992: Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder
  • 1992: Nebraska U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey
  • 1992: Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton

Of course, this long list above is partially explained by the fact that this period saw two cycles during which Democratic presidential nominees carried only one state (1972, 1984), such that nearly any potential statewide officeholder who decided to seek the presidency in 1976 and 1988 would be running from a state won by the GOP nominee.

On the Republican side, there have been 10 Republican White House candidacies since 1996 by sitting statewide officeholders in states previously carried by the Democratic presidential nominee:

  • 1996: California Governor Pete Wilson
  • 1996: Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter
  • 2000: Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain
  • 2000: New Hampshire U.S. Senator Bob Smith
  • 2012: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty
  • 2016: Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
  • 2016: Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • 2016: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
  • 2016: Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • 2016: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

The GOP had nearly a dozen additional former statewide officeholders that fit this criteria during this seven-cycle span.

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