Top Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight

Top Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight
© Greg Nash

As Democrats try to recover from devastating 2016 election losses, some of the party’s rising stars are out of the national spotlight.

The party’s most prominent members — former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-Saudi official says he was targeted by a hit team after fleeing to Canada Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Yellen expects inflation to return to normal levels next year MORE, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE — all hold no elected office but are expected to play major roles in the party’s rebuilding efforts.


But while the party’s bench includes a handful of lawmakers already in Congress or governors’ mansions, others are carving out spaces of their own despite not holding prominent elected positions.

Here are five Democratic politicians who could soon sit at the center of Democratic politics — and how they’re biding their time until then.


Jason Kander

One of the stars of the Democrats’ 2016 Senate recruiting class, the former Missouri secretary of state ran a close race against Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSunday shows - Democrats' spending plan in the spotlight GOP senator: Best thing Trump could do to help Republicans in 2022 is talk about future It's time to make access to quality kidney care accessible and equitable for all MORE (R-Mo.). 

Kander lost in the end, but his campaign developed valuable donor relationships and earned him praise for running well in a nationalized race, all while drumming up publicity with a memorable ad where he assembled a rifle blindfolded. 

As the party continues to falter in the Midwest, particularly among white, blue-collar voters, many Democrats see Kander’s heartland appeal as something to emulate. 

Kander is out of office now, but he’s still busy.

He launched his own voting rights organization in February and joined forces with major Democratic super PAC Priorities USA in its push to become a voting rights protection clearinghouse. His group, Let America Vote, has an impressive advisory board that includes top Democrats such as Priorities head Guy Cecil. 

And Democrats chose Kander as one of the lawmakers who addressed the party ahead of last month’s election for chair of the Democratic National Committee, where he rallied Democrats to look toward the future even as they found themselves divided over their pick to lead the party.

It’s not obvious what’s next for Kander politically. President Trump won Missouri by 18 points, although Kander lost the Senate race by just 3 points. But what is clear is that both Democrats and Kander want him to stay in the conversation. 


Julián Castro

Castro has been one of the fastest-rising politicians on the Democratic side ever since a lauded speech to the 2012 Democratic National Convention put him on the map. Castro’s speech drew parallels to another Democratic young gun who broke out during a 2004 convention speech: then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama. 

After five years as mayor of San Antonio, Castro made the jump to the national stage when Obama named him secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and he eventually landed on Clinton’s vice presidential shortlist. 

But with Democrats out of the White House, Castro finds himself out of a job. That’s despite being, along with brother Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), one of the highest-profile Texas Democrats and Hispanics in the party.

With Joaquin eyeing a potential challenge to Republican Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it Australian politician on Cruz, vaccines: 'We don't need your lectures, thanks mate' MORE and Democrats showing little success in recent statewide elections, Julián may have to wait a bit longer if he wants to return to public office. 


Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAll eyes on Garland after Bannon contempt vote Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps MORE

Obama’s former attorney general won praise from Democrats for his work on issues including voting rights, police abuse and same-sex marriage. Since leaving the Justice Department in 2015, Holder has stayed busy.

Working in private practice, Holder has advised Airbnb as it looks to rebound from accusations that the company’s hosts discriminate against potential customers and has signed on to represent the California legislature as outside counsel as that state prepares to oppose the Trump administration.

Holder now serves as the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is working through both political and legal channels to give Democrats more power in the redistricting debates that could help them improve their ranks in statehouses. Obama is expected to play a role in the group too. 

So as 2017 rolls on, Holder and the NDRC are taking a more public role. Politico reported this week that Holder, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) will hit the West Coast for a fundraising trip. 


Pete Buttigieg 

While most Democrats saw him as having little chance at winning the race to lead the Democratic Party, the South Bend, Ind., mayor leveraged his DNC chair bid into his first major foray onto the national stage. 

An openly gay Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, the Navy Reserve lieutenant has been seen as a rising star by those in the know over the past few years, thanks in part to his dynamite resume. But Buttiegig’s DNC bid introduced him to many progressives who did not know his name — let alone how to pronounce it. 

Buttigieg sits in a spot similar to that of Kander. While being a rising Democrat in a red state has its advantages, it tremendously limits future pathways. Indiana’s statewide offices are all filled by Republicans, save for Sen. Joe Donnelley, who faces a tough reelection battle in 2018. 

But at just 35 years old, Buttigieg has time on his side as he looks to help the party sail through Trump’s America and could potentially stand to benefit if the president’s low favorability ratings lead to wave elections in 2018 or 2020. 


Martin O’Malley

The former Maryland governor and third-place finisher in last year’s Democratic primary failed to gain much traction at all in his presidential bid, falling under 1 percent in the Iowa caucus. But his 2016 drubbing hasn’t kept O’Malley from the campaign trail.

O’Malley attempted to position himself as the progressive alternative to Clinton, but was overshadowed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'It's not coming out' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden must keep progressive promises or risk losing midterms MORE (I-Vt.). But O’Malley carved out a progressive platform that could stand to help him for a future run for office in a party that’s turning increasingly leftward. 

Since Election Day, he’s campaigned for state legislature candidates in special elections in Delaware and the presidentially significant state of Iowa. O’Malley also flirted with a bid for DNC chairman before eventually deciding not to run and has tried to position himself as an antagonist to Trump. 

O’Malley has given all indications that he’s open to a presidential bid again. Along with his telling trips to Iowa, he said to NBC News he “just might” run in 2020.

Politico reported Wednesday that O’Malley’s leadership PAC paid for a 2020 Iowa caucus poll that found him leading with 18 percent in a fractured field — albeit with heavy hitters such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing Republican spin on Biden is off the mark MORE (D-Mass.) kept off the poll.