BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney entered the race for governor on Wednesday, joining a field of candidates seeking to extend Democrats' control of the office that was last won by a Republican when Cooney sought the post 20 years ago.

Cooney, 64, announced his 2020 run to a cheering crowd in Butte, his hometown.

He plans to run on improving work-based learning and apprenticeships, holding down prescription drug prices and preserving Montana values, he told The Montana Standard before his announcement. He also said keeping a Democrat as governor is important for balance in state government.

"The Legislature has been dominated by the Republicans. It's good to have a Democrat as governor," he said.

House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner of Great Falls and former legislator Reilly Neill of Livingston are also seeking the Democratic nomination.

Attorney General Tim Fox and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte are among five candidates seeking the Republican nomination.

Gov. Steve Bullock can't run again due to term limits, and he's seeking the Democratic nomination for president. The open race gives Republicans a chance of recapturing the seat after 16 years of Democratic governors.

After Cooney's announcement, Montana Republican Party Chairman Don Kaltschmidt denounced the lieutenant governor as "the very definition of a bureaucrat and a career politician."

Cooney launched his political career in the Montana Legislature as a Butte representative, winning the first of two terms in 1976.

He then worked for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus until 1988, when he won what would be the first of three terms as secretary of state.

Cooney ran for governor in 2000, but came in last in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination. The nominee, Mark O'Keefe, ultimately lost to Judy Martz, the last Republican to be governor.

Cooney led a nonprofit called Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and was a member of the state Senate from 2003-2010.

He was deputy commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry before he became lieutenant governor in 2015.

During his third term as secretary of state in 1996. Cooney hired Bullock, who was working for a private law firm in New York City. Bullock became Cooney's chief legal counsel before switching over to the attorney general's office later that year.

Bullock said in a statement that Cooney has his support.

"He has gone above and beyond as lieutenant governor and has been a partner to this state to pass Medicaid expansion, expand access to public lands, and enhance our public education," Bullock said.

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