Invisible primary has already begun for Dems

The invisible primary has begun for Democrats plotting a presidential path in 2020. 

Would-be candidates are hitting the trail, sharpening their positions, seeking the right political “lane” and holding private conversations with donors about their prospects. 

Invisible primaries typically start after the midterm elections, but Democrats thinking about the 2020 race appear to be getting a head start. 

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The battle to become the Democratic nominee is shaping up for an early start, and political observers say it’s anyone’s to win.


“We live in a world where presidential campaigns are four-year cycles, and many potential candidates don’t have the luxury to delay conversations with potentials donors, validators, [Democratic National Committee] members and operatives until after the midterms,” said Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist who co-founded Ready for Hillary, the super PAC that helped push Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Former Facebook security chief: 'I failed to prepare my employer' on Russian disinformation Rand Paul: Facebook must 'convince conservatives they're not the enemy' MORE into the 2016 race. 

Parkhomenko said campaign operatives are already having conversations on behalf of their candidates, whether or not they are sanctioned. 

Donor phone lines, meanwhile, are already lighting up, and earlier than ever. 

“I think lots of folks are anxious to test the waters and put out feelers about what a race might look like and if they’ll get the support they’ll need,” said one Democratic donor. “Typically those conversations don’t really happen until after the midterm, but I think it’s a different time. The election cycle never ended.”

Candidates can be a bit coy about their intentions in 2018, suggested one top Democratic fundraiser about the conversations. 

The fundraiser spoke of unofficial conversations with a number of potential 2020 candidates. 

“Nothing official, but lots of wink winks,” the fundraiser said.

Eric Jotkoff, a Democratic strategist who worked on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, said today’s invisible primary is national in scope and focused far beyond the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Instead of camping out in those states, candidates are working on digital content and trying to reach a coast-to-coast audience to build their brands.

“Rather than just aiming for a TV hit on [Manchester television station] WMUR or coverage in the Des Moines Register, the process these days is much more national,” Jotkoff said. “Now presidential hopefuls work on digital content they hope goes viral and try to get mentions on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ in addition to eating fried food at the Iowa State Fair or stopping by the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester.” 

To date, would-be candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Warren congratulates former student and researcher on election to Congress Illinois New Members 2019 MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Sanders rolls out bill aimed at getting Walmart to raise wages Left wants a vote on single-payer bill in new Congress MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Human Rights Campaign chief to leave organization next year MORE (D-Calif.) have been out on the stump for 2018 candidates in must-win states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, a state that went for Trump two years ago that had not supported a Republican since 1984. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP MORE (D-N.J.) has also campaigned alongside 2018 candidates and drew headlines when he appeared with Democrat Doug Jones as he fought and won a special election for a Senate seat in Alabama earlier this year.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandHillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations On The Money: Senior GOP senator warns Trump against shutdown | Treasury sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | HQ2 deal brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Senate confirms Bowman to Fed board Gillibrand criticizes financial incentives for Amazon MORE (D-N.Y.) has also been trying to carve out a name for herself by playing a leading role in sexual harassment issues.  

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Democrats huddle for 2020 ‘friend-raisers’ MORE — who is considering another bid for the White House — released the book “Promise Me, Dad” and has been crisscrossing the country to talk about Democratic values and the way forward. 

On Tuesday, during a speech at an event put on by his own foundation and the Brookings Institution, Biden — speaking about the future of the middle class — gave a possible preview of what his message might be on the trail. 

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders,” Biden said. “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys. But this gap is yawning, and it’s having the effect of pulling us apart. You see the politics of it.”

Some dark-horse candidates also have been making the rounds. 

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spent time this spring doing interviews on TV to promote his new book, “In the Shadows of Statues.” 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also has been putting out feelers to donors. 

In the donor world, fundraisers are already talking about potential paths to victory. 

If Sanders runs, and Warren and Biden don’t, Sanders will be off to a flying start because of his established network, said a fundraiser who spoke to The Hill. 

“Just a numbers game,” the fundraiser said, adding that if Warren and Biden run, “then there’s a path for others to break through.”