Obama team’s 2020 signals spark chatter among Dems

Democrats are expressing concern that advisers and aides to former President Obama have already begun signaling which candidate they might support for the White House in 2020. 

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest confidantes, and David Simas, the CEO of Obama’s foundation, have sent smoke signals urging former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to enter the race.

Simas, who once served as a top aide to Patrick, is an ardent supporter of the former governor, sources tell The Hill, while Jarrett has privately told friends that she would do what it takes to support him.

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And Politico reported last month that Jarrett believes a President Patrick is “what my heart desires.”

At the same time, friends of Jarrett’s say that while she would love for Patrick to run, she is also open to other candidates. 

Others in Obamaworld have quietly been buzzing about the excitement behind a potential Patrick run. 

Axios's Mike Allen mentioned Patrick as a favorite in Obamaworld in his popular newsletter on Friday. 

Other former aides close to Obama say they would support a run by former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden to campaign for Stacey Abrams next week Dems with political experience could have edge in 2020 primary, says pollster Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE, if he decides to launch a bid in 2020.

Obama has not weighed in publicly on the next presidential race, and those around him have said he isn’t looking to tip the scales and believes it is too early to back any one candidate. 

But the reports of Jarrett’s and Simas’s interest in Patrick have left people wondering what the former president is thinking.

One top Obama fundraiser, however, said it’s clear the inner circle has a clear favorite in Patrick and that it’s no coincidence they’ve put that storyline out there. 

“It’s blatantly overt,” the fundraiser said told The Hill. 

The fundraiser speculated that one reason Obama’s circle is putting out smoke about Patrick is to take away oxygen from Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDem senator calls on Kavanaugh to withdraw after second allegation Feinstein calls for hold on Kavanaugh consideration Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-Calif.). 

“A lot of people in our world see Deval as the one who will carry the Obama legacy. Kamala has labeled herself as the female Obama, but Deval was Obama before Obama was Obama,” the fundraiser said. 

Obama’s office did not comment for this story. Jarrett declined to comment. Simas did not respond to a request for comment.

Democratic insiders are expressing worry about some of the talk, and they say it’s much too early to be pushing one particular candidate.

“There is little appetite in the party to settle on a candidate early,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. 

Many Democrats and Republicans believe the 2020 race will be wide open and that a couple dozen Democrats could even run for the party’s presidential nomination. 

It’s difficult to see either Patrick or Harris becoming a frontrunner in the race, particularly with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.) signaling his continued interest. Sanders will attend two events on Monday in New Hampshire.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her More Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren Trump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? MORE (D-Mass.) is another potential favorite and frontrunner should she choose to enter the race. 

“I want to see a wide-open a process where there are no front-runners,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley said. “The idea that anyone is out there pushing for one person or another is a mistake.”

While the 2020 election is still more than three years away, potential candidates must already prepare for the possibility of a race. 

The fight for key staff members and donors will not be delayed. 

One former aide to Clinton said there’s danger in Obama heavyweights being seen as aligning with a candidate, because it could deepen factions within the party. 

The fight between the Sanders and Clinton wings from the 2016 primary has left scars, with supporters of both candidates blaming the other, at least to a degree, over President Trump’s victory. 

Still, some strategists say even if the Obama allies have their favorites, it won’t matter much in the end. 

“Party insiders don't have a great track record of picking successful Democratic nominees,” said Simmons. “They didn't pick Jimmy Carter, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonSexual assault is not a game — stop using women to score political points Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle Presidential approval: It's the economy; except when it's not MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNational security leaders: Trump's Iran strategy could spark war The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE.” 

“The best idea is to wait and see who Dem voters feel some affection for and rally around that person to help them win,” Simmons said.  

Manley agreed. 

“I’m not so sure it’ll matter at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re looking at a long slog. 2020 is a long ways away.”