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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 CruzNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Texas attorney general hits links with Trump before CPAC appearance 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 BrownSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill 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 TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE handily defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm 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 BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm 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 CaseyRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Senate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Democrats blast Trump team videos: 'False equivalency'  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 HarrisDwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world 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 KerryUN: Emission reduction plans 'fall far short' Climate change rears its ugly head, but Biden steps up to fight it Recapturing the spirit of Bretton Woods 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.