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 WarrenKamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money Pompeo faces pivotal vote Dem senators demand Trump explain ties to Koch brothers 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 BrownVulnerable Senate Dems have big cash advantages Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job Overnight Finance: Senate repeals auto-lending guidance, shattering precedent with vote | House passes IRS reform bills | Senate GOP fears tax cut sequel MORE, Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Cybersecurity: Senators want info on 'stingray' surveillance in DC | Bills to secure energy infrastructure advance | GOP lawmaker offers cyber deterrence bill Overnight Health Care: GOP pushes stiff work requirements for food stamps | Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss to opioids | Republicans refuse to back vulnerable Dem's opioids bill | Dems offer new public option plan Dems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting MORE, New York Sen. ­Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand's jobs plan another federal program we don't need Kamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money Schumer to introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE, Minnesota Sen. Amy ­Klobuchar and incoming California Sen. Kamala Harris. Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineHannity snaps back at 'Crybaby' Todd: 'Only conservatives have to disclose relationships?' Chuck Todd lashes out at Fox, defends wife in radio interview Overnight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes 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 ClintonFeehery: The problem with the Dem wave theory After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp Support for Trump reelection mirrors Obama, Clinton in first terms: Gallup 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 McCainManchin, Donnelly back Pompeo This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination MORE (Ariz.), 2004 Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOvernight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Pompeo faces pivotal vote 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 TrumpRand's reversal advances Pompeo New allegations could threaten Trump VA pick: reports President Trump puts on the pageantry for Macron’s visit MORE

Warren last month demanded that Trump withdraw his nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: Why does Scott Pruitt still have a job? DOJ announces M grant to cover costs associated with Parkland shooting ‘Morning Joe’ host: Trump tweeting during Barbara Bush funeral ‘insulting’ to US 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 DurbinPompeo faces pivotal vote To succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy Hannity, Kimmel, Farrow among Time's '100 Most Influential' 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 ObamaGeorge H.W. Bush in intensive care Michelle Obama congratulates duke and duchess of Cambridge on royal baby ‘Morning Joe’ host: Trump tweeting during Barbara Bush funeral ‘insulting’ to US MORE has expressed no interest in entering politics despite pleas from some Democrats. 

While 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit George H.W. Bush in intensive care GOP chairmen say they have deal with Justice on documents 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) SandersOvernight Finance: Treasury mulls sanctions relief for Russian aluminum firm | Trump floats tying NAFTA talks to border security | 14 states hit record-low unemployment Kamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money Judd Gregg: Who wins with Paul Ryan's departure? 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.