Depleted Dems look to Senate for 2020 nominee

Depleted Dems look to Senate for 2020 nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate is emerging as Democrats’ most promising recruiting ground for a presidential candidate in 2020 — in part because of the party’s deep losses in gubernatorial mansions. 

The ranks of Democratic governors have been hit, with a string of losses reducing their numbers to a paltry 16.

That’s leaving the Senate as perhaps the most likely place for the next Democratic star to rise. 

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Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program  Warren: 'I'd be very glad' for Sessions to quit Warren gives Trump an 'F' on draining the swamp MORE (Mass.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) have the most star wattage of Democratic senators, according to lawmakers and strategists who spoke with The Hill. 

Other names mentioned include Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownGOP Senate candidate attacks Anti-Defamation League for ‘witchhunt' on far right Senate Banking leaders introduce flood insurance bill Major progressive group endorses Martha McSally challenger MORE, Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyDems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Administration briefs Senate on progress against ISIS Iran deal faces uncertain future under Trump MORE, New York Sen. ­Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDems see huge field emerging to take on Trump LGBT group defends general after transgender comments Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Pentagon No. 2 | Uncertain future for Iran deal | Trump to visit Pentagon Thursday | Key general opposes military space corps MORE, Minnesota Sen. Amy ­Klobuchar and incoming California Sen. Kamala Harris. Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTim Kaine40 million fewer people expected to vote in 2018, study finds Al Gore warns Democrats about accusing Trump of treason Administration briefs Senate on progress against ISIS MORE, the party’s vice presidential nominee this year, is another possibility.

“Elizabeth Warren would be at the top of my list. I think she would be a great candidate. I think Sherrod Brown would be a great candidate,” said Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist who served in Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump legal team spokesman resigns: report The Hill's 12:30 Report Lawmakers send McCain well wishes after cancer diagnosis MORE’s White House and on Obama’s transition team.

“We don’t have very many governors left, honestly,” he said when asked if any state leaders are in the upper echelons of potential presidential hopefuls. “So, no.”

“I’m sure there are some, but they aren’t at the top of my radar screen,” he added. 

Some float Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as possible Democratic nominees in 2020. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.), who was once seen as a promising White House candidate, has seen his stock plunge recently because of federal bribery charges filed against two former advisers and several other people in his administration. 

Governors have been a source of successful presidential picks for both parties, while presidential candidates from the Senate have found it difficult to win national races. 

Governors can tout their executive leadership and their experience balancing budgets. Senators have to defend tough votes, often on procedural issues that can be murky. 

President Obama was the first sitting senator to be elected president since Sen. John Kennedy in 1960. In contrast, the two Democratic presidents preceding Obama were both governors: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Recent candidates who ran for president from the Senate and failed include 2008 GOP nominee John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Schwarzenegger tweets to McCain: 'You'll be back' Trump called McCain to wish him well after cancer diagnosis MORE (Ariz.), 2004 Democratic nominee John KerryJohn KerryDems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Budowsky: Dems need council of war White House says US-Russia cyber unit would not share intel MORE (Mass.) and 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole (Kan.).

Those who say a successful Democratic candidate could emerge from the Senate note that senators will be on the front lines in high-profile battles with the Trump administration. 

Warren and Gillibrand already have stepped up in recent days to rally Democratic colleagues to oppose controversial Cabinet picks by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump lawyers looking into special counsel's potential conflicts of interest: reports Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE

Warren last month demanded that Trump withdraw his nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsOvernight Cybersecurity: DOJ takes down two online criminal markets | Kansas breach exposed 5M Social Security numbers Dem senator: Trump acting like he's still on ‘The Apprentice’ Booker wants more scrutiny of Amazon-Whole Foods merger MORE (R-Ala.) to serve as attorney general. She urged fellow senators not to “compromise with racism,” alluding to comments Sessions allegedly made decades ago.

She also exhorted fellow Democrats not to “roll over” and accept what she called special-interest giveaways to drug companies in the 21st Century Cures bill, which passed the Senate this week. It was seen as a dress rehearsal for the bigger policy fights of next year. 

Gillibrand mobilized her colleagues to take a tougher stand against Republican efforts to lower the threshold for confirming Gen. James Mattis to serve as secretary of Defense. She argued that giving Mattis a special waiver to avoid the rule prohibiting Defense secretaries who have been retired from the military for less than seven years might undermine civilian oversight of the Pentagon. 

A Democratic aide said there was little Democratic criticism of the proposed waiver before Gillibrand spoke up. 

But while some Democrats are jockeying to play leading roles opposing Trump next year and others are chatting privately about who might emerge as the eventual nominee, lawmakers are loath to discuss it publicly, a reflection of the deep uncertainty about the future of the party. 

Many Democrats are exhausted in the wake of this year’s grueling and acrimonious election, which ended, from their point of view, with the shock election of Trump. 

“It’s way too soon for that kind of speculation. We haven’t even sworn in the next president,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham and Kushner met to discuss immigration differences: report Trump's FBI nominee passes committee, heads to full Senate Report: Republican says Trump doesn’t even scare Senate pages MORE (Ill.).

A constellation of Democratic leaders appear ready to move on from the spotlight. 

President Obama is leaving office, and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaBudowsky: Dems need council of war The Hill's 12:30 Report Michelle Obama gets standing ovation at ESPYs MORE has expressed no interest in entering politics despite pleas from some Democrats. 

While 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump officials: Russia meddled in the election Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE won the popular vote over Trump, her political career seems over.

Vice President Biden, 74, sparked a round of media chatter earlier this week when he told reporters Monday that he would run for the White House in 2020. He appeared to be joking.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOPINION | Shailene Woodley: US should run on renewable energy by 2050 Gore: Progressive ideas 'gaining ground' among Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, who finished second to Clinton in the primary, is an independent from Vermont and not a Democrat. He would be 79 in 2020. 

Democratic lawmakers and strategists say talk of a party with a leadership vacuum at the top has failed to recognize what they say is a deep pool of young talent in the Senate. 

“I think it’s time for a new generation of leaders to emerge. There are a number of my colleagues in the Senate who have great progressive credentials and the ability to appeal to millennials,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“I feel very strongly if we want to inspire young people to be part of the winning Democratic coalition, you need to present them with some new talent and new leadership,” he added. 

Warren, 67, is a relative newcomer to national politics who won her Senate seat in 2012. Several of her colleagues with White House buzz are in their 40s or early 50s. 

“There’s a lot of talk about our bench being weak, but that’s just looking at the top tier leaving — Obama, Clinton, Biden, [Senate Democratic Leader Harry] Reid [Nev.] and [House Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi [Calif.] who are either old or retiring. But if you look at the Senate, and we control nearly half the body, there’s a lot of talent,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. 

“It’s talented, it’s young, it’s diverse,” the aide said, citing Booker, Murphy, Harris and Gillibrand.