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John Mues, a Navy veteran and engineer who works in the energy field, announced Thursday he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Mues is the second Democrat to join the race to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who is seeking his second term. Wilmot Collins, who has been mayor of Helena since the start of 2018, is also running in the Democratic primary. No Republicans have said they’ll challenge Daines.

In launching his campaign, Mues, a fourth-generation Montanan, put Daines clearly in his sights, saying he is determined the incumbent won't go without a serious challenger in 2020.

“I'm running for U.S. Senate because I love my home state of Montana. I love my country. I have the qualifications to make a major positive difference in the lives of all Montanans, not just the economically elite," Mues said this week. "And Sen. Daines in my opinion, is the worst senator in my lifetime and unfit to hold public office based on his voting record and his values, which are not in sync with Montana.”

Mues said one of his primary issues if elected would be preserving and improving the Affordable Care Act. If elected, one of the first things he'd want to do is no longer allow short-term health care plans. In 2018 the Trump administration extended the amount of time for which such plans — which do not have to comply with ACA requirements such as guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions — could be offered.

Education is another focus for Mues. He called for increasing options for vocational education, as well as more funding and better teacher pay for K-12 educators.

“I believe education is at the root of everything. In Montana, we have so many mechanically and electrically inclined students on farms and ranches in the small towns like I grew up in. What an incredible competitive advantage for Montana if we can train these kids at the next level,” Mues said. "If we get education right, so many other things fall into place."

Mues served in the U.S. Navy for seven years as an active duty nuclear submarine officer. While in the Navy, he participated in the Troops-to-Teachers program and earned a teaching certificate at Montana State University. He then taught for two years on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

After that, he earned a master's degree in business administration from the London Business School, and now works as a senior engineer in the energy sector. He and his wife live near Loma and are expecting their first child this year.

Mues said his experience working as an engineer on everything from zero-emission fuel cells and wind and solar projects, to oil and gas and nuclear power, puts him in a position to address climate change if he’s elected.

"We are 30 years behind where we should be in terms of technologies that could radically reduce emissions in traditional energy," Mues said.

In an interview this week, Mues was critical of Daines' votes on several issues, as well as the Republican senator's allegiance to President Donald Trump. It's a departure from the approach U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who won reelection in 2018, took in highlighting the times Trump signed Tester's legislation, even as Trump came to the state four times to campaign for his opponent.

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Though Trump remains popular in Montana, Mues believes he can appeal to enough people who support him to knock off Daines. Most political watchers call Daines' seat a safe assumption to be held by the GOP.

"People, whether they are Trump supporters or not, are really hankering for solutions. People feel that (on) a gut level that something is wrong, and whether you are Donald Trump or you are Bernie Sanders, what you got right in your respective races is that you said there is a problem. They might have completely different solutions, but there is a problem. And the problem is we have unprecedented economic inequality in the country," Mues said.

Mues said that as someone who lives in so-called Trump country, has served in the military and worked in the private sector in the energy field, he lives in a world that generally supports Republicans and has been able to get his points across.

"I have a long history of communicating with folks who don't necessarily see the same way I do," Mues said.

One wild card in the Democratic primary is Gov. Steve Bullock, who has launched a bid for president. Though many in his party tried to push Bullock toward the Senate race as the party hopes to pick up seats in 2020, Bullock has insisted he won't do that, even if his presidential bid fizzes out.

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