HELENA – Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton announced Wednesday that he’s running for governor in 2020, kicking off what’s expected to be a crowded race for Montana’s next chief executive.
Stapleton, 51, a former state senator and financial adviser from Billings, became the first high-profile candidate to enter the race for governor, which will be an open seat in 2020.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock can’t run for re-election because of term limits.
A Democratic candidate has yet to emerge for the 2020 governor’s race, but at least two other Republicans are giving the race a look.
Attorney General Tim Fox has said he’s considering a run for governor and sources told MTN News that Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte is doing the same.
Gianforte, who won Montana’s only U.S. House seat in a 2017 special election and was re-elected last year, lost the 2016 gubernatorial race to Bullock.
Political unknown Peter Ziehli of Kalispell also has filed paperwork to run for governor as a Republican. He’s an Army veteran and student at Flathead Valley Community College.
In an interview Wednesday, Stapleton told MTN News that, like many Republicans, he wants to create a climate that can lead to higher wages, lower taxes and smaller government.
Yet he also said he’s worked well with Democrats on some issues and can appeal to voters outside the Republican base – a necessity to win statewide elections in Montana.
“I am someone absolutely who has enjoyed Democratic support, Independents’ support, Libertarian support, Constitutionalist support, conservative support,” he said. “So, I want to serve everyone, but most importantly, I want to set a vision and show people what I would like to accomplish … and then get to work with the Legislature on it.”
Stapleton said he wanted to get the campaign started early because he still must carry out his duties as secretary of state while building a campaign and leadership team, as well as raise money.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had a Republican governor that the infrastructure for a governor doesn’t exist on the Republican side right now,” he said.
Montana hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 2000.
Stapleton won election as secretary of state in 2016. He served as a state senator from 2001-2008 and also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House in 2014 and governor in 2012, losing each time in a Republican primary.
Stapleton graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in general engineering and has master’s degrees in political science from Temple University and financial services from The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
He was born in Seattle but grew up in Great Falls. He served 11 years in the Navy as an officer, including stints on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy and the aegis cruiser U.S.S. Hue City.
He and his wife, Terry, have four children.