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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 Ann WarrenTrump's SEC may negate investors' ability to fight securities fraud Schatz's ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with government Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 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 Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE, Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers feel pressure on guns Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting MORE, New York Sen. ­Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  MORE, Minnesota Sen. Amy ­Klobuchar and incoming California Sen. Kamala Harris. Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSave lives, restore congressional respect by strengthening opioids’ seizure Overnight Finance: Lawmakers, Treasury look to close tax law loopholes | Trump says he backs gas tax hike | Markets rise despite higher inflation | Fannie Mae asks for .7B Bipartisan Senate group says they have immigration deal 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 ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Make the compromise: Ending chain migration is a small price to legalize Dreamers Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens 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 Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.), 2004 Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 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 John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE

Warren last month demanded that Trump withdraw his nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes 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 LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama celebrates success of ‘Black Panther’ How textbooks shape teachers — not just their students Michelle Obama dedicates Valentine's Day playlist to Barack Obama MORE has expressed no interest in entering politics despite pleas from some Democrats. 

While 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward 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.