WASHINGTON — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock delivered a stern warning Wednesday that his fellow Democratic presidential candidates are putting the party at risk of losing to President Donald Trump in 2020.

“We are well on our way to losing this election long before it ever even has really started,” Bullock said in a speech at the National Press Club.

The only one of the two dozen Democrats running for president who has won statewide office in a state Trump also won, Bullock criticized the Democratic field for taking policy positions that he said will hand Trump the election.

He also reiterated his support for ending the filibuster in the Senate, putting him at odds with other moderates running for president such as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

Bullock won reelection in Montana by less than 4 points on the same day in 2016 that Trump carried the state by 21 points. He’s using his red-state bona fides to argue that he’s the candidate who can expand the map and cut into Trump’s coalition.

In the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend, Bullock’s been arguing that that’s especially the case when it comes to appealing to red-state voters on gun control.

“I believe I can speak to folks who live in gun country,” Bullock said, noting that he’s a gun owner and hunter. “I know their hearts, and their hearts are not with the white supremacists and domestic terrorists.”

The two-term governor has been making the rounds on national TV in the past few days sharing his personal experience with gun violence. In 1994, his 11-year-old nephew was shot and killed on his school playground by a classmate.

After campaigning against an assault weapons ban and universal background checks during his 2016 reelection, Bullock reversed both positions in the middle of 2018, fueling suspicions that he was preparing for a national campaign. He dismissed a question about how his recent evolution might give base voters pause in the primary and suggested that his identity as a gun owner will actually give him more credibility.

“The House has done its job, but the Senate won’t act,” Bullock said, alluding to background check legislation that the House passed in February.

As both state attorney general and governor, Bullock has made campaign finance one of his signature issues. As he did in last week’s debate, he connected money in politics to gun violence, specifically calling out the National Rife Association.

“If we were to pass meaningful anti-corruption laws, then rather than being the most feared man in Washington, Wayne LaPierre would be just another dweeb in a thousand-dollar Italian suit,” Bullock said, referring to the NRA chief executive.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

As other presidential candidates have since this weekend’s shootings, Bullock also blamed Trump for inciting violence.

“Here is a sentence I never thought I’d utter — the president of the United States gives aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy abroad, and incites the enemies of decency at home,” he said.

Asked if Trump is a racist, Bullock quickly responded, “Yes.”

But the loudest message from Bullock on Wednesday wasn’t his condemnation of Trump — the end of whose presidency he said wants to see “more than anything in the world.” It was to his fellow Democrats, and the voters who might be swayed by them.

“As I stood there on the debate stage last week, and listened to the next night, I saw his reelection become more likely with each passing minute,” Bullock said, painting his opponents’ calls for ending private health insurance, extending insurance coverage to undocumented immigrants and decriminalizing illegal immigration “the politics of self-destruction.”

He praised the 2010 health care law and said he was incredulous that after so many attempts from Republicans, it’s now Democrats who’d like to do away with it.

“If you propose abolishing private health insurance, you will lose. You will reelect Trump,” Bullock said.

“That may sell in Burlington; it won’t sell in Billings,” he added, referring to rival Sen. Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont without calling out his opponents by name.

The “Medicare for All” bill introduced by Sanders, and endorsed by several other presidential contenders, would end private insurance. Some other candidates have proposed plans to expand public coverage while also preserving private insurance, at least for a while.

“I guarantee you if I am the nominee I will place a bet here with all of you that I will carry Vermont and Massachusetts and California,” Bullock said, a not-so-subtle jab at Sanders and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

“But, I wonder if the senators from Vermont and Massachusetts and California can make that same guarantee about carrying Montana, or Michigan, or Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania,” he added, listing four states Trump carried in 2016.

“If I come up short in this primary, I will work ceaselessly to defeat Mr. Trump,” Bullock said. “But some of my fellow Democratic candidates aren’t making it easy.”

Coming soon: Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.