HELENA - First by Internet early Wednesday morning and later at an evening rally in Billings, Attorney General Steve Bullock made it official: he's running as a Democrat for governor in 2012.
Bullock's campaign sent out 16,000 emails to Montanans before 6 a.m., with a video showing him fishing with his family and talking about his record as attorney general and what he wants to accomplish as governor.
Later in the day, Bullock made his formal announcement before a crowd in Billings, the state's largest city, where he also launched his campaign for attorney general in 2008.
Bullock highlighted his record as attorney general - cracking down on sexual predators, fighting prescription drug abuse, helping farmers and ranchers, making sure Montana reaps a fair return on its state lands, working with Gov. Brian Schweitzer and others to preserve access to public lands, and leading efforts to get repeat drunken driver off the highways.
Eight years from now, Bullock said his eldest daughter, Caroline, 9, will be a senior in high school, possibly when the next Montana governor leaves office.
"It hit me because for all the good that we can do in my current job, we are at a crossroads," Bullock, 45, said in remarks prepared for delivery. "The leaders we elect and the decision we make will define the Montana that we live in now, and the Montana we pass onto our kids and grandkids.
"How we approach this crossroads matters. If you spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror, guaranteed the only direction you'll be going is backward. The challenges our state faces aren't found in the past, and they're not found in Washington, D.C."
He said he wants to offer the Class of 2020 the same kind of opportunities that he and his wife, Lisa, had growing up in Helena.
Bullock laid out in broad terms his goals as governor. Although short of specifics, he pledged in an interview to flesh them out with detailed proposals later in the campaign.
He said he wants Montana to be a state that leads the country in educational innovation, opportunity and achievement and one where college is affordable.
Bullock called for responsibly developing Montana's natural resources, "including leading the way to American energy independence and a clean energy future."
He also said he wants to pass on a place that maintains its rural identity where farmers and ranchers can continue to survive.
As for jobs, Bullock said Montana's greatest export can't continue to be its kids.
"Caroline's Class of 2020 should inherit a Montana that has good-paying jobs in research, technology, development and manufacturing," Bullock said, adding he would make "partnering" in job creation his top priority.
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Finally, Bullock strongly endorsed the rights of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for a living wage and safe working conditions.
Bullock faces one Democratic primary opponent so far, state Sen. Larry Jent of Bozeman, who has announced but raised little money. Five Republicans are actively seeking their party's nomination next June.
Montana State University political scientist David Parker said Bullock starts out as the Democratic primary favorite.
"He's the presumptive Democratic nominee because he's got the name recognition and the fundraising apparatus," Parker said. "He's probably shrewd enough to know if the Republicans beat each other enough, he could come in and rise above the fray (in the general election)."
Bullock has the advantage of having run for statewide office before, which Parker said has taught him how to win and built his name recognition.
"That automatically makes him a strong contender," the MSU professor said.
Republicans wasted no time attacking Bullock, criticizing him for opposing the state Otter Creek coal leases.
"Steve Bullock voted against Otter Creek natural resource jobs, even though Montana unemployment hasn't gone below 7 percent since 2009," said Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the state GOP.
However, Bullock's spokesman Kevin O'Brien said the attorney general proposed a lease price that would have returned $200 million to Montana and voted for a plan that would have returned $145 million. When coal companies refused to bid, the Land Board voted to lease the coal for $87 million, with Bullock opposing the deal.
Greenwood attacked Bullock for rebuffing calls to join a lawsuit filed by a number of Republican attorneys general challenging the 2010 federal health care law.
"He refused to defend us from Obamacare, despite the fact that 57 percent of Montanans want it repealed," Greenwood said.
In response, O'Brien said Bullock "doesn't believe that we should spend taxpayer money on a lawsuit where our involvement wouldn't affect the outcome."