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Tester’s staff walks back comments on Bullock plan

December 5, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2018 file photo Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. Tester's staff is walking back comments by the Montana Democrat that appear to confirm Gov. Steve Bullock plans to run for U.S. Senate. Tester was asked about the Democratic governor's plans for a Senate run during an appearance at American University Tuesday, DEC. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s staff on Wednesday walked back comments made by the Montana Democrat that appeared to confirm Gov. Steve Bullock plans to run for U.S. Senate.

Tester chief of staff Aaron Murphy said Tester thought the question that prompted his comments was about Bullock’s 2020 presidential plans.

Tester was asked Tuesday during an appearance at American University about the Democratic governor’s plans for a Senate run.

In a video posted and later removed from the AU College Democrats’ Facebook page, a person in the audience asked Tester, “Do you think Gov. Bullock will be running for the Senate, or will you be convincing him to?”

Tester initially responded with a joke, asking the questioner if he wanted to bet $100,000 on it. He then said, “Yeah, he’s running. Yeah. Yeah, he is.”

On Wednesday, Murphy said the senator misheard the question. Murphy told The Associated Press later that Tester thought the query was about whether Bullock plans to run for president.

“Jon knows the governor’s focus now is to keep bringing Republicans and Democrats together, to fight dark money in politics, and to find effective policy solutions for Montanans,” Murphy said in his statement.

Bullock is in his final term. He has created a political-action committee and traveled several times to Iowa and New Hampshire as he explores a possible 2020 presidential bid. During those trips, he’s introduced himself to audiences as a crusader against anonymous money in politics and as a Democrat who’s found a way to work with a Republican-led Legislature.

Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is up for re-election in 2020 and no clear Democratic challenger has emerged.

Bullock chief of staff Tom Lopach says the governor is focused on the upcoming legislative session and plans to travel to continue to “share his story about how he’s brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass progressive policy and drive dark money out of Montana elections.”

“Bullock is not interested in a Senate run,” Lopach said in a statement.

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