On July 26, Missoula's former state Sen. Carol Williams stood before a microphone in the stands of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, ready to declare the results of the Montana delegation's vote for the presidential nominee. Of the state's 27 delegates, 12 had sided with Bernie Sanders and 14 had sided with Hillary Clinton—an outcome several DNC delegates acknowledge was already in the offing despite Sanders' Montana primary victory. In fact, had the missing vote been cast by Montana's sole absent delegate, Clinton's count would have come out at 15.
That vote belonged to Gov. Steve Bullock.
Bullock, who was one of six Montana superdelegates not pledged to a specific candidate, announced his decision to skip the DNC prior to the event, stating he had work to do back in the state. Campaign spokesman Jason Pitt elaborated on Bullock's reasoning in an email to the Indy.
"Instead of going to Philadelphia, Steve Bullock stayed in Montana and focused on his job as governor," Pitt wrote. "This included continuing conversations with energy industry leaders about the future of Colstrip, and making several job creation grant announcements. Additionally, Bullock and his family also attended the First Lady's three generation family reunion last week."
The governor left few wondering which candidate he would have supported had he been there, having issued his formal endorsement of Clinton on July 14. But his absence from the convention drew derision from Republican challenger Greg Gianforte. Gianforte's campaign last week accused Bullock of being a "no-show" in an attempt to distance himself from the "anti-gun and anti-coal" nominee.
"Mrs. Clinton shouldn't feel too bad," Gianforte spokesman Aaron Flint said via email, before referencing Bullock's attendance at the Paul McCartney show in Missoula in 2014. "Even though she got Steve Bullock's endorsement, about the only thing Steve Bullock will show up for is a rock concert (but only if the taxpayers will pay for the flight)."
- Carol Williams reads off the final vote count from the Montana delegation during last week’s Democratic presidential nomination. She feels Gov. Steve Bullock made the right call in not attending, despite his status as a superdelegate.
According to Williams, Bullock's absence at the DNC was actually of little consequence given the superdelegate votes already going Clinton's way. Bullock has a "heavy campaign schedule," she says, and the delegation was informed of his decision by a state party staffer during a dinner the week before.
"I think he did the right thing," Williams says. "He stayed here and kept his schedule, and he's got a tough race ... I think his decision was wise."
Jean Dahlman, the sole Montana superdelegate to side with Sanders, says she realized Bullock's presence for the nomination process wouldn't have changed anything. He "probably made the right choice," she adds, and she doubts his stated support for Clinton will have any impact on his reelection among Sanders supporters—even if the "Bernie or Bust" bloc of Democrats made for "the most dramatic" of the five national conventions Dahlman's served at.
"I'm an endorser of Bernie, so I understand where they're coming from and I'm not going to be critical of them," Dahlman says. "But as a rational voter, I would hope they come to their senses and realize they absolutely have to get behind Hillary Clinton and support her because this election is too critical."
Missoula's Anita Green, who attended the DNC as a pledged Sanders delegate but began vocally supporting Clinton during the convention, declined to comment on Bullock's absence. However, she says she was saddened by the division in the Montana delegation, particularly by the presence of only one pro-Sanders superdelegate.
"It was hard for me to know who to support after I had to accept Bernie Sanders would not be the next president of the United States," Green says. "The last person I told the media I would be endorsing is Hillary Clinton. I do not wish to discuss this any further."
Williams says she understands the feelings of Sanders supporters still upset about the results of the nomination process. She was a Clinton supporter and chair of the Montana delegation in 2008 when Barack Obama became the nominee, and she knew she was voting for a candidate who had already lost. There were no surprises then, she says. There shouldn't be any now.
"Nobody's going to think that a Democrat running for governor isn't supporting the presidential candidate," Williams says. "He's got his own race to run, and we all understand."