At 6:37 AM ET, on Monday, December 2, 2019, Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana, bid adieu to his Presidential campaign.
Over the course of his 202 day campaign, Steve sent a lot of emails. Since I began tracking him on May 21, he sent 250 emails to my non-donor account and 180 to my donor account, for a total of 430 emails.
Steve was a fan of early-week emails, sending 66 each on Mondays and Tuesdays. He usually had a Thursday follow up as well, with 64 emails.
The bulk of Steve’s emails were sent after 5 PM ET, though he was from Montana, so it’s possible that he was sending his emails near the end of the workday due to time differences. Regardless, Steve was not a fan of early morning messages.
Steve was a disciple of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” way of writing, opting for a heavy use of standard rhetorical devices in his emails. He asked me to give him a chance to explain himself in 53 of his emails, and he kept repeating the same sob story about growing up with a single mom and only knowing there was a governor’s mansion in his hometown because he would deliver newspapers to it, and now look at him, raising his kids in the governor’s mansion with his wife…
The fact that I could write that without looking it up indicates how much he repeated it.
Steve took many cues from more successful candidates like Julian Castro. His reliance on his single-mom childhood wasn’t there at the outset, but it started after Castro had been leaning heavily on his mother. Same with his use of the word “humble,” specifically when he would be humbly asking me.
Steve did not welcome me to his campaign. He focused intensely on raising money and qualifying for the debates (and complaining about not qualifying for the debates). He frequently grumped about the unfairness of it all, that a sitting Democratic governor in a red state had to beg and scrape for single dollar donations to qualify for the debates.
As with his use of rhetorical devices, Steve frequently didn’t bother writing fresh emails. He reused and recycled old messages quite frequently. While this likely saved him some money, I am unsure how effective it would have been to grow his money.
Well. I say I’m unsure. Since I’m writing this farewell, clearly it wasn’t effective enough.
As with most candidates, Steve leaned heavily on his monetary asks. He also peddled his merch quite a bit, though he never really had anything particularly noteworthy. His most creative merch designs, the Bull-Lock emoji, never featured in his emails, and his “Trump skis in jeans” beanie didn’t come out until close to the end of his campaign. It was also obscure enough that those of us who don’t frequently ski could only assume that it was a diss on the current President, not actually understanding the jape.
Earlier in the year, Steve launched a Helvetica List style t-shirt naming all of the people so far convicted of crimes tied to Trump’s presidential campaign. He trotted it out again when Roger Stone was convicted. Unfortunately, this t-shirt design summed up Steve’s campaign fairly well: it was a riff on a somewhat-popular fad that completely missed the point of the fad and fell flat.
Those Helvetica List designs, after all, are mostly lists of things you tend to like, such as all the members of the Beatles, or the Avengers. They’re a nod and a wink to other fans while looking unassuming to those not cool enough to be in the know. Steve’s design was of people we decidedly shouldn’t like. I can’t think of anyone who enjoys showing off things they are disgusted by across their chests.
On paper, Steve Bullock was an excellent candidate. The same year Trump won Montana, so too did Steve. He proved he could be on a Trump ballot and come out on top. He was able to get things done despite a heavily Republican legislative branch. He had a tough childhood and came out to a successful life. He had a charm about him when he spoke–I remember watching him at the Liberty and Justice dinner in Iowa, speaking dead last, after midnight, with the staff cleaning the tables around him, and still having a smile on his face and energy in his voice. On paper, he was a great candidate.
But ultimately, Steve was bland. He did not excite much of anyone. His biggest passions were for overturning Citizens United and protecting public lands, both of which were important, but neither of which were particularly sexy. And Steve’s biggest argument was that he was popular in Montana.
Montana has a reputation for being basically empty of people. It’s no surprise America heard his claim and went “So?”
I’m sorry you didn’t go further, Steve, but you wanted to retire from public service anyway. Go have fun with your kids and make your whole family groan with your dad jokes. Those were my favorite part of your campaign. 🙂