Invisible primary has already begun for Dems

The invisible primary has begun for Democrats plotting a presidential path in 2020. 

Would-be candidates are hitting the trail, sharpening their positions, seeking the right political “lane” and holding private conversations with donors about their prospects. 

Invisible primaries typically start after the midterm elections, but Democrats thinking about the 2020 race appear to be getting a head start. 

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The battle to become the Democratic nominee is shaping up for an early start, and political observers say it’s anyone’s to win.


“We live in a world where presidential campaigns are four-year cycles, and many potential candidates don’t have the luxury to delay conversations with potentials donors, validators, [Democratic National Committee] members and operatives until after the midterms,” said Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist who co-founded Ready for Hillary, the super PAC that helped push Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance Melania Trump puzzles with 'I really don't care' jacket Grassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report MORE into the 2016 race. 

Parkhomenko said campaign operatives are already having conversations on behalf of their candidates, whether or not they are sanctioned. 

Donor phone lines, meanwhile, are already lighting up, and earlier than ever. 

“I think lots of folks are anxious to test the waters and put out feelers about what a race might look like and if they’ll get the support they’ll need,” said one Democratic donor. “Typically those conversations don’t really happen until after the midterm, but I think it’s a different time. The election cycle never ended.”

Candidates can be a bit coy about their intentions in 2018, suggested one top Democratic fundraiser about the conversations. 

The fundraiser spoke of unofficial conversations with a number of potential 2020 candidates. 

“Nothing official, but lots of wink winks,” the fundraiser said.

Eric Jotkoff, a Democratic strategist who worked on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, said today’s invisible primary is national in scope and focused far beyond the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Instead of camping out in those states, candidates are working on digital content and trying to reach a coast-to-coast audience to build their brands.

“Rather than just aiming for a TV hit on [Manchester television station] WMUR or coverage in the Des Moines Register, the process these days is much more national,” Jotkoff said. “Now presidential hopefuls work on digital content they hope goes viral and try to get mentions on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ in addition to eating fried food at the Iowa State Fair or stopping by the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester.” 

To date, would-be candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFederal court rules consumer bureau structure unconstitutional Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBernie Sanders: Trump thinks like an authoritarian Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Trump's America fights back MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe American experience is incomplete without its neighbor – The argument for Americanism Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral MORE (D-Calif.) have been out on the stump for 2018 candidates in must-win states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, a state that went for Trump two years ago that had not supported a Republican since 1984. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDem presidential hopefuls seize on Trump border policy To strengthen our democracy, we need to remove obstacles that keep students from voting Members of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit MORE (D-N.J.) has also campaigned alongside 2018 candidates and drew headlines when he appeared with Democrat Doug Jones as he fought and won a special election for a Senate seat in Alabama earlier this year.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Dem presidential hopefuls seize on Trump border policy Actress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding MORE (D-N.Y.) has also been trying to carve out a name for herself by playing a leading role in sexual harassment issues.  

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: Trump family separation policy could make the US a pariah Elizabeth Warren can unify Democrats and take back the White House Giuliani doubles down on Biden comments: 'I meant that he’s dumb' MORE — who is considering another bid for the White House — released the book “Promise Me, Dad” and has been crisscrossing the country to talk about Democratic values and the way forward. 

On Tuesday, during a speech at an event put on by his own foundation and the Brookings Institution, Biden — speaking about the future of the middle class — gave a possible preview of what his message might be on the trail. 

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders,” Biden said. “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys. But this gap is yawning, and it’s having the effect of pulling us apart. You see the politics of it.”

Some dark-horse candidates also have been making the rounds. 

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spent time this spring doing interviews on TV to promote his new book, “In the Shadows of Statues.” 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also has been putting out feelers to donors. 

In the donor world, fundraisers are already talking about potential paths to victory. 

If Sanders runs, and Warren and Biden don’t, Sanders will be off to a flying start because of his established network, said a fundraiser who spoke to The Hill. 

“Just a numbers game,” the fundraiser said, adding that if Warren and Biden run, “then there’s a path for others to break through.”