The campaign finance reports for the last quarter are out—and former Lt. Governor John Bohlinger has reported raising almost $10,000—a number that has to disqualify him from consideration as a serious Senate candidate. In contrast, his major primary opponent, current Lt. John Walsh, raised almost sixty times as much money, collecting $583,000. And lurking after the primary is Representative Steve Daines, who has almost $2 million sitting in his campaign coffers.
Bohlinger simply isn’t a viable candidate in that context. The truth is that he hasn’t even raised enough money for a competitive legislative race at this point, much less a statewide campaign.
I certainly believe that money has had a corrupting influence on American politics. There is far too much money influencing our elections and our politicians. We need to work to reduce its influence, without question.
But serious candidates need to be able to raise enough money to campaign, to connect with voters, and to pay for talented staff. And money measures something else: that a candidate has enough support to be considered for the office. Having raised less than $10,000 means that John Bohlinger hasn’t connected well enough with Montana voters to find 500 people willing to throw him $20.
Decry the corrupting influence of money all you want, but a candidate who can’t find anyone willing to make even small donations is a candidate without a base of support. Having lived as a Republican, Independent, and Democrat in the past twelve months has simply made Mr. Bohlinger a candidate without a home.
Mr. Bohlinger says that he believes in Democratic principles now, and I take him at his word—even if I have some serious lingering doubts about his votes on issues critical to progressives in the past. But at this point, his campaign (one devoid of substantive issues, serious campaigning, or any real support) can only hurt those principles.
To date, the only thing the Bohlinger campaign is doing is providing campaign consultant Bob Brigham a slightly higher platform from which he can throw firebombs at Montana Democrats who don’t meet his exacting (if ever-changing) standards for liberalism. Day after day, the person who Bohlinger has entrusted with conveying his message endlessly repeats Republican talking points, unfairly and inaccurately attacking the viable Senate candidate, John Walsh.
If Mr. Bohlinger is serious about supporting Democratic values and policies, it’s time for him to step aside, endorse John Walsh, and disassociate himself with a flailing campaign consultant who is destroying Bohlinger’s legacy for decency just a bit more every day. It’s time for him to recognize that this isn’t a winnable race. It’s time for him to go back to being the John Bohlinger we all admired as a Lt. Governor.
There’s still good work for John Bohlinger to do: he can help the initiative to expand Medicaid in Montana; he can try to restore decency to the Republican Party; he can work to expand privacy protections. None of those goals, though, work for a Senate candidate with no chance of seeing the Senate.