With his sights now on Senate, Bullock still battling Trump

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Aug. 17, 2017 file photo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at an event marking a conservation agreement at a former mining site in Jardine, Mont. Steve Bullock never got to square off directly against President Donald Trump before dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary race last year. But the two-term governor is getting another chance on his home turf by trying to oust a strong Trump ally, first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines in Montana's U.S. Senate race. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

BILLINGS, Mont. – Steve Bullock never got to square off against President Donald Trump before dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary last year, but the two-term governor is getting another chance on his home turf by trying to oust a strong Trump ally in Montana's U.S. Senate race.

The balance of the closely divided Senate is in play in November’s election and tens of millions of dollars are expected to be dumped into Big Sky Country as Bullock challenges first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

The contest presents a challenge Bullock has not previously faced: A well-financed incumbent closely aligned with a president who compels attention and has pledged to campaign in Montana on Daines’ behalf.

To win, Bullock will have to carry out the same feat Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is attempting at the national level and sway moderate voters who helped propel Trump to a 20-percentage point victory in Montana in 2016.

That same year, Bullock won his second term as governor with a 4 percentage point margin.

To hear Bullock tell it, he doesn't see the Senate race as an extension of his presidential run or Daines as a proxy of Trump.

“This isn’t about a referendum on Trump. This election is about leadership and who will fight for Montana every day in Washington,” Bullock said in his first interview since the two candidates cruised to victory in last week’s primary over lesser-known opponents.

It’s also a question of whether voters will boot one popular elected office holder to replace him with another. Daines won the seat by a huge margin in 2014 and has delivered legislative victories on issues ranging from land conservation to relief for businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic.