A divided Obama world has options in 2020

Obama World is split when it comes to who to back in the 2020 race for the White House.

A number of former President Obama’s allies are hoping that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll Ivanka Trump raises million in a week for father's campaign On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election MORE enters the race and would be ready to back him.

Others are hopeful that Obama’s former attorney general Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior official called Black Lives Matter 'racist,' defended alleged Kenosha shooter | Trump signs bipartisan bill funding conservation grants  Interior official called Black Lives Matter 'racist,' defended Kenosha shooter Alarm grows over Trump team's efforts to monitor polls MORE — who is close to former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett —  takes the plunge.


And there are others loyal to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who has a long working relationship with former Obama strategist David Axelrod and has had conversations with him about running for president. 

With as many as 30 candidates expected in the 2020 field, Obama World — famously a tight-knit group — may be divided for the first time.  

“It’ll be tough because they’re all competing for the same crowd,” said one former Obama aide. 

Ben LaBolt, who served as an Obama White House spokesman and national campaign spokesman for his 2012 campaign, acknowledged the likely division.

“There is incredible talent preparing to run in this year's Democratic primary, which means for the Obama diaspora this may be the first time many of us are supporting candidates that our friends and former colleagues are not,” said LaBolt, who refrained from talking about who he might support. 

“Hopefully we can contribute wisdom from having won two hard fought races to make candidates across the board stronger and rally back together when the general comes around.”

While Obama is likely to be supportive of his associates behind the scenes and even encourage them to run, allies say he is more than likely to remain neutral publicly until the Democratic primary draws to a close, as is former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama releases her voting playlist Obama to young voters: Create 'a new normal in America' by voting for Biden Obama hits trail to help Biden, protect legacy MORE

But the battle for Obama’s aides, confidants and donors — and the president's implicit support — is expected to be fierce. 

One Obama confidante everyone will be watching is Jarrett, who remains close to Holder and his family. 

But Jarrett has also told friends she could get behind a Patrick ticket. Other Obama advisers such as David Simas, who worked for Patrick as a deputy chief of staff and is now the CEO of the Obama Foundation, are also said to be a big fan of the former governor. 


“There's always been a sense that [Patrick] and Holder are two of the few people that the Obamas and Valerie Jarrett feel genuine personal loyalty and affection towards, beyond politics, and Deval's political world overlaps with the Obama world,” one Democratic strategist said, adding, “There's going to be endless tea leaf reading among the tribe of former Obama people, all trying to divine where Obama's preferences really land.” 

Still, former aides and allies argue that Biden seems to be the one getting the buzz — at least at this early stage. He’s likely to attract a lot of support from Obama alums because many see him as one of the few potential candidates who could beat Trump. 

“If all three run, who is best positioned to capture the Obama lane?” one Democratic operative who worked on Obama’s campaigns pondered. “My gut tells me Biden because he was Obama’s No. 2, the guy who Obama trusted to take over if something happened to him while in office.” 

Other former aides such as Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Lovett — who run the successful Pod Save America podcast and television show — will also be closely watched.

So far, it’s unclear if Biden, Patrick and Holder will run, though all three have said they are considering possible bids. 

Holder, who has been campaigning alongside midterm candidates, drew headlines earlier this month when he tweaked Michelle Obama’s now-famous slogan “When they go low, we go high.” 

“No, no,” Holder said during a campaign stop in Georgia. “When they go low, we kick ‘em. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” 

Those who know Holder say he’d apply the same no-nonsense tone and tenor on the campaign trail. 

“Eric Holder was unapologetic about calling out systemic racism at a time when a lot of Democrats would 'tsk, tsk' him for raising uncomfortable subjects,” said Brian Fallon, the longtime Democratic aide who served as a spokesman under Holder at the Department of Justice.

“Even before Trump arrived, Holder used his platform as attorney general to aggressively confront police brutality, voter suppression and mass incarceration. Others in the field would struggle to match his record of walking the walk on issues like these.”

Biden and Patrick have also been generating headlines as they stump for Democratic candidates across the country. Unlike other Democrats, Biden has been stumping in not only blue states but red states — a sign of his continued popularity with white working-class voters.

The three men have been known to compliment one another.

“I’ve known Deval for a while; we’ve known each other for years. I think he was a good, two-term governor,” Holder recently told BuzzFeed. 

Robert Wolf, who served as a bundler for Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and is close to several would-be candidates, said the 2020 race isn’t going to be about personal relationships.   

"I think as a party, Dems are going to be very pure,” Wolf said. “It will be all about who we think is the best candidate who can actually beat Trump."