Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger filed Friday to run for the U.S. Senate, deciding to stay in a race from which he earlier had considered withdrawing.
Bohlinger, 77, one of three Democrats competing for the Senate seat now held by Democrat John Walsh, said he wants to give Montana voters a choice and not cede that choice to “Washington power brokers.”
“I understand policy, I know how to govern, I know how to lead and I have the political courage to stand up to the special interests that have so much influence over our Congress,” he said Friday after paying his $1,740 filing fee to become an official candidate.
Bohlinger will compete for the Democratic nomination with Sen. Walsh and political newcomer Dirk Adams, a rancher from Wilsall.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is the only Republican so far to file to run for the seat.
Bohlinger announced last fall that he would run for the Senate seat held by then-Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who earlier said he planned to retire at the end of 2014.
Baucus, however, resigned his seat in February after he was appointed and confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China.
Gov. Steve Bullock then appointed Walsh, his lieutenant governor, to fill out of Baucus’ term through this year. Walsh already had been running for the Baucus seat.
Upon Walsh’s appointment, Bohlinger said it would be tough competing with an incumbent senator’s power to raise money and campaign and that he might drop out of the race.
But on Friday, Bohlinger said Montanans “don’t like back-room deals, and neither do I.” He told how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called him last November and pressed him to withdraw, because the Democratic powers-that-be had chosen Walsh as their man in the Montana Senate race and didn’t want a competitive primary.
Bohlinger also recalled Friday how he’d said that appointing Walsh was like giving him a 40-yard head start in a 100-yard dash, and that he couldn’t overcome that sort of a lead.
“But I know this,” he said: “That if the person with the 40-yard head start should stumble, if he trips, then I can win.”
Bohlinger said he plans to run an “issue-driven campaign,” talking about his support for campaign-finance reform, expanding Social Security benefits and digital privacy, among other things.
Bohlinger is the chief sponsor of Constitutional Initiative 113, which, if it gets on the ballot and is approved by Montana voters, would prohibit warrantless searches of digital communications.
He said Friday that CI-113 will be part of his Senate campaign.
Bohlinger, a former business owner from Billings, lives now in Helena. He served 14 years as a Republican legislator from Billings and then served as lieutenant governor under Democrat Brian Schweitzer from 2005-2012.
Bohlinger reported raising just $22,500 in campaign funds through December, including $15,000 of his own money. Walsh raised about $583,000, or about 25 times as much.