O’Rourke, Brown shake up volatile Democratic horse race

The midterm elections have shaken up the early race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. 

Enthusiasm for a White House bid by Rep. Beto O’Rourke is soaring after he came within 3 percentage points of Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE in the Texas Senate race. 

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O’Rourke, seen as more of a dark-horse candidate in 2020 just a few weeks ago, is suddenly being embraced by former aides to President Obama, who are comparing him to their former boss. And he’s not ruling out a White House run after dismissing it as a Senate candidate. 

The Texan isn’t not the only potential candidate with new momentum after the midterms, either. 

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Powell says Fed will consider faster taper amid surging inflation Biden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick MORE, fresh off a decisive reelection victory in Ohio, is openly considering a run for the White House. 

Democrats are giving him a fresh look, too, given his win in a perpetual swing state where President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE handily defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE in 2016. 

Democrats focused on winning back working-class voters are wondering if Brown’s brand of populism and socially liberal politics would make him a credible national candidate. 

“Beto’s campaign has certainly catapulted him into the conversation,” said Adam Hodge, a Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee official. Likewise, he added, “Brown is getting a first look. Like Beto, he ran an authentic campaign that spoke directly to voters and did it in a battleground states that Democrats shouldn’t give up.”  

The new momentum for O’Rourke and Brown will create fresh challenges for other would-be contenders who have long been seen as likely 2020 Democratic candidates. 

The field of challengers to Trump is expected to be large, and Democrats will be looking for lanes to distinguish themselves in the crowded contest. 

That includes former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection MORE (D-Mass.), who have long been seen as top contenders in part because of their name recognition. 

“The race has kind of flipped on its head in a really short time,” said one Democratic donor. “All of a sudden, it looks like the front-runners aren’t really the front-runners anymore.”

Democrats have long seen Biden as a strong general election candidate but have questioned his ability to win a primary against more liberal Democrats. 

He would face real competition from Brown, who is to Biden’s left on trade, but also from Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenators urging federal investigation into Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims Crucial talks on Biden agenda enter homestretch Senate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents MORE (D-Pa.), who like the senator from Ohio won reelection convincingly in a state won by Trump in 2016. 

Biden, who hails from Scranton, Pa., has long been considered a candidate who could appeal to blue-collar white voters. But that is also the demographic that Brown or Casey could shoot for. 

The former vice president might also have to compete with O’Rourke for the Obama crowd, judging from the effusive remarks about the Texan made by the ex-president’s former aides. 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also seriously considering a White House bid as a Democrat, fresh off an election cycle in which he poured cash into races to help Democrats win back the House. 

Bloomberg, who would run as a centrist, could be a threat to Biden in that lane of a primary. 

O’Rourke and Brown could also suck up the oxygen that other candidates need, including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPolitics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Bidens to attend Kennedy Center Honors following Trumps' absence MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerMaternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE (N.Y.). 

Strategists say candidates will have to figure out how quickly to launch campaigns to try to get attention from donors and the public.

They say established candidates might want to jump in quickly to blunt the momentum of a Brown or O’Rourke, for fear they could rev up like Obama’s campaign in 2008. 

“[The Clinton campaign] gave him an opening and he ran through it,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “If I’m more of an established kind of candidate, if I’m a Biden or a Warren, you can’t wait. You’ve got to be out there really fast with a strong message.  

“The advantage someone like Beto has is that he has nothing to lose,” Kofinis added. “That is a dangerous candidate in a multi-candidate field. Same as Obama. Look at the kind of campaign he ran. He had nothing to lose.”

There are signs that some of the politicians long seen as 2020 candidates are getting into the deeper water. 

Warren this week rolled out a foreign policy vision focused on free trade agreements. Speaking at American University, she said foreign policy should “benefit all Americans, not just wealthy elites.” 

Other candidates are on the move to early primary states. Booker is heading back to New Hampshire to headline a “post-election victory celebration,” the state party announced on Friday. 

Harris crisscrossed Iowa last month and proposed a tax credit of up to $500 a month for families earning less than $100,000. 

Every day, the potential field grows seemingly larger. 

Last week, former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryKerry calls out countries that need to 'step up' on climate change Those on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution To address China's coal emissions, the US could use a little help from its friends MORE, the Democratic nominee in 2004, said he was mulling a run in 2020. 

“Everyone is deciding they have an opening based on their own facts,” said Kofinis. 

The elbows may begin to fly. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) on Thursday said it would be unusual for the party to nominate O’Rourke in 2020 since you usually don’t nominate losers — a pointed reference to the loss to Cruz.