DETROIT – Montana Governor Steve Bullock was on the national stage Tuesday night in his first appearance in a Democratic presidential candidate debate.
Bullock mixed it up with the front-runners, often by trying to portray himself as the more moderate, practical alternative.
Bullock shared the stage with liberal firebrands Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday night, and seven other candidates in the first of the two Democratic candidate debates in Detroit.
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He didn’t waste time drawing distinctions — saying he would not support a Medicare-for-all health plan, favored by Sanders and Warren.
“I’m not going to support any plan that rips away quality health care form individuals. This is an example of wish-list economics,” Bullock said. “It used to just be Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace; it’s not many Democrats as well.”
He also trotted out another oft-used campaign message, that of being a Democrat who is progressive — yet moderate enough to win in a conservative state.
“I’m the only one of the field of 37 that actually won a Trump state; 25% of my voters voted for Donald Trump,” Bullock said. “I know that we do have to win back some of those places we lost and get those Trump voters back if we’re ever going to win.”
When it came time to talk about addressing climate change — Bullock warned against going too hard on the anti-fossil-fuel rhetoric — prompting an exchange with Sen. Sanders.
“I think Democrats, often when they’re saying, ‘oh, these fossil-fuel industires, these workers, those coal-mining workers.’ Look, the world is changing, we gotta make it change,” Bullock said.
“But I think Democrats often sound, like the people, that Congressman Ryan would say, shower at the end of the day — that they’re part of the problem. And far too many communities are being left behind as we make this transition. Look, we’re having this discussion, as we’re talking about competing.”
“Look, Steve, there ain’t nobody in the Congress who is more strongly for workers than I am,” Sanders countered.
But as the evening wore on, CNN moderators often left Bullock out of the discussion for long periods of time. Measured in minutes of exposure, he stood in seventh place out of the 10 candidates.
The question remains if Bullock’s moment in the debate sun is enough to elevate him to the upper tier of Democratic candidates. While that remains to be seen, Bullock is going to need a boost in support if he hopes to make it to the next debate in September.
Ten more candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, will be on the debate stage on Wednesday night in Detroit.