HELENA — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock will enter the race to be the state's next governor with a speech Wednesday to supporters, two people close to the Democrat said Tuesday.
Bullock, a rising star within the Democratic party, will leave the attorney general's office after one term and shift his re-election campaign to the governor's race for 2012, according to one person involved in his campaign and another who is a top Bullock adviser.
thorized to speak publicly before the announcement, which will be followed by other events around the state.
The 45-year-old will attempt to succeed Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who has enjoyed immense popularity in a state that leans conservative but can't run for re-election because of term limits.
Many Democrats had been pushing Bullock to make the switch, and speculation was widespread that he would run for the top office. Two Democrats had even filed to run for the attorney general spot, confident that Bullock would not be seeking re-election.
The attorney general, with less than one term completed in his first statewide office, has strong, organized backing. He has raised about $200,000 in his re-election effort, money that can be transferred to the governor's race.
Bullock already has been able to stay even in the money battle with Republican front-runner and former congressman Rick Hill. The two have easily outpaced others in the race, mostly Republicans in a crowded field that include former state senators Ken Miller of Laurel and Corey Stapleton of Billings, along with security consultant Neil Livingstone, whose consultancy is based in Washington, D.C., but lives in Helena.
The only other Democrat in the race is state legislator Larry Jent, of Bozeman, who so far has not raised much money.
As attorney general, Bullock spearheaded a crackdown on drinking and driving with tougher new laws capped by a program that provides daily monitoring of multiple offenders. He personally took the case to defend Montana's century-old ban on corporate political spending in a legal battle with a conservative political group.
Bullock targeted prescription-drug abuse with a new initiative. He made national news when he filed a lawsuit against a defunct video store chain that was aggressively using collections agents to pursue former customers who didn't return movies before the doors were closed.
He won a close race in 2008 against Republican Tim Fox, a battle that was one of the most fiercely contested races in the state that year. Both received strong support from their respective parties — a feat Bullock will need to repeat if he is to come out on top again.
The lesson learned in that rough election battle could come in handy. Republicans have been hammering Bullock — such as for failing to join the lawsuit against federal health care reform — in anticipation of the news that he would switch to the governor's race.
Republicans pointed out that auditors found the sex-offender registry maintained by Bullock's office was full of inaccurate or unverifiable address information. They chastised the attorney general for using his seat on the Land Board to oppose a coal lease in eastern Montana.
The GOP filed a lawsuit last week seeking intervention in their dispute with Bullock and his campaign fundraising methods. Bullock had been raising money without declaring if he will seek re-election or run for governor.
The past and present commissioners of political practice have said that nothing in state law prevents the move, and Bullock said he spoke to the past commissioner before filing his paperwork the way he did.
But the Montana Republican Party argued the law is clear that candidates must specify an office when filing financial disclosures even if they have not formally filed for an office with state election officials.
Bullock raised his profile among Democrats in 2006 when he led a successful initiative campaign to increase the state minimum wage. Prior to that, he served as a lawyer in the offices of attorney general and secretary of state.