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 CruzBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate 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 BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch 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 TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE handily defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote 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 BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Bipartisan infrastructure win shows Democrats must continue working across the aisle 'The land is us' — Tribal activist turns from Keystone XL to Line 3 MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election 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 CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act 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 HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerWomen urge tech giants to innovate on office return Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape 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 KerryHow the US could help Australia develop climate action Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power No. 2 State Department official to travel to China amid tensions 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.