Carroll-area residents weren’t shy about complimenting Montana Gov. Steve Bullock or giving the Trump-state Democrat advice on how to wage his presidential campaign.
“Nobody with a ‘senator’ or ‘representative’ in front of their name can beat Trump,” said Cindy Johnson, pastor at St. John Evangelical Church in Carroll. “He has deemed them a ‘swamp.’ ”
Johnson, who is also a candidate for the Carroll Community School Board, joined about 30 people at Ski’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Carroll Sunday afternoon to listen to a speech from the White House candidate and go back and forth with Bullock in a Q-and-A session.
Bullock’s case: he won reelection as a Democrat in a heavily rural state that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in 2016. It’s going to take that brand of Democrat to win the White House next year, said Bullock, noting he’s the only Democratic governor left in the race.
“I’m a single-issue voter this time, and that single issue is making sure Donald Trump doesn’t get reelected,” Bullock said.
Ron Langel, 70, a Vietnam War veteran from Templeton, urged Bullock to avoid the siren call of policy from the left of his party, ideas like free college and the elimination of student loan debt. That won’t sit well with Republicans and the independent-minded people he knows, Langel told Bullock, adding that Democrats shouldn’t forfeit patriotism to Trump and Republicans.
“Trump had this campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” Langel said. “I never thought it was bad.”
Johnson all but endorsed Bullock at the event as the Carroll pastor said if she could “wave a magic wand,” the Democratic ticket would be Bullock for president with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the vice presidential nominee — “so we can have 16 years of some sanity,” Johnson said.
Jean Guy, 68, who teaches literature and current events at Kuemper Catholic High School, said the Democratic Party needs to listen to moderate candidates in the White House race.
“This is my second time to hear you, and I think you make a lot of sense,” Guy told Bullock.
Bullock said it is possible to be a progressive candidate — he’s defended unions and backed abortion rights — in more conservative areas if the focus is on economic issues, and you show up and take the criticism on other matters.
“I refuse to cede the votes of rural America,” Bullock said.
Bullock said Trump fatigue and anger isn’t enough to win a presidential election for his party. What’s more, if Democrats use a coastal strategy to capture the White House while ignoring middle America, the next president won’t be able to govern effectively, he said.
In Montana, Bullock said, he’s been successful in getting the state’s residents to see that expanded Medicaid, which is vital for keeping rural hospitals open, and pre-kindergarten are essential for both Democrats and Republicans.
Bullock is an advocate of campaign finance reform. Beyond bringing transparency to campaign donations, Bullock would like to see laws in place to U.S. representatives from announcing reelection or raising money in the first year of their two-year terms — with the same rule applied to the first three years of a senator’s six-year term.
Bullock has released a rural plan that, among other things, creates a national office of rural affairs to coordinate work of agencies across the government to boost rural America.
On Saturday, at the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry in Des Moines, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is supporting Bullock, said the two candidates for president he’s seen with the most connectivity to the most voters — in his career — are Bullock and President Obama.
“I think in part, it probably comes from, Iowans and Montanans are not that much different,” Bullock said in an interview with the Times Herald. “We’re a rural state, we have small communities. We want to make government work. We recognize that a government doesn’t have to have every solution, either.”
Miller has traveled with Bullock to Carroll twice and sees the region as one Bullock, a former attorney general of Montana, can win.
“I think I’m the best candidate to take our case to the entire country,” Bullock said.