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Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock drop out of the 2020 race, bringing the number of candidates to a seven-month low


Joe Sestak (left) and Gov. Steve Bullock. Zak Neumann/Little Village

Two-for-one deals are common on Cyber Monday, so it’s appropriate that this week should start with two bottom-tier candidates quitting the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Joe Sestak, a retired admiral and two-term congressman from Pennsylvania (2007-2011), announced on Sunday afternoon he was ending his campaign. Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana announced his withdrawal before the sun was up on Monday morning.

Sestak, who declared his candidacy on June 22, never managed to clearly explain why he was running. He regularly spoke about offering the country the sort of leadership he had exercised during his 31-year naval career, and providing a moral example in office. He talked warmly about those who had served under his command, and repeatedly used naval metaphors.

But in a campaign season in which candidates have been offering detailed plans, Sestak offered little in the way of specifics.

Sestak’s statement announcing the end of his campaign was much like the rest of this campaign: vague with naval metaphors.

“A moral compass for our great ship of state is the beacon most needed today,” Sestak wrote. “And it is for the Captain of State who offers it that all Americans will provide the fair winds and following seas to advance us.”

A search for endorsements in Iowa during Sestak’s four-month campaign turned up nothing. According to the most recent campaign finance statement, the former congressman only raised about $400,000. Just one candidate out the 27 who have so-far declared — Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida — raised less money.

Gov. Steve Bullock raised 10 times the amount of money Sestak did — more than $4 million, according to the most recent FEC filings — and had one high-profile Iowa endorsement — Tom Miller, Iowa Attorney General since 1979, was an enthusiastic supporter — during his six-and-half month campaign, but ultimately did no better than Sestak.

“I entered this race as a voice to win back the places we lost, bridge divides and rid our system of the corrupting influence of Dark Money,” Bullock said in his Monday announcement.

Bullock led a successful fight for campaign finance reform in Montana. He was also, as he endlessly stressed, a Democrat who had won a statewide election in a state that voted overwhelming for Donald Trump. In theory, both of those things should have made Bullock a very attractive candidate to Democratic voters. In practice, neither did.

“While there were many obstacles we could not have anticipated when entering into this race, it has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates,” Bullock said in his announcement.

The withdrawal of Sestak and Bullock reduces the number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to 16, the lowest number since April.

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