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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ClintonFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate 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 WarrenMore Massachusetts Voters Prefer Deval Patrick for President than Elizabeth Warren Trump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.), 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.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle 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 BookerCNN editor: Booker's 'groping incident' 'different' from Kavanaugh allegation Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle 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 GillibrandTeen girls pen open letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser: We imagine you at that party and 'see ourselves' Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster 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 BidenDems with political experience could have edge in 2020 primary, says pollster Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing Trump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race 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.”