Potential 2020 contenders compete for staff in key states

It’s one of the clearest signals to date of who’s considering a run for the White House in 2020: staffing.

For months, would-be Democratic presidential hopefuls — Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCalifornia Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenKamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (Mass.), to name a couple — have dispatched trusted aides and advisers across the country to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

At the same time, several potential candidates have started the process of recruiting new personnel in a handful of states that will be pivotal in securing their party’s nomination in 2020.

While most staffing decisions are still in their formative phases and few official moves have been made, several Democratic officials in early primary states said that would-be White House hopefuls and their advisers have been making calls to prospective campaign operatives, who could eventually help build their ground operations in the run-up to 2020.

Taken together, the moves are intended to help Democrats eyeing a challenge to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE gain an early presence in crucial early-voting states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, and build political networks that will come in handy in a potentially crowded primary field.  

“The advantage is it helps us establish a strong footprint before anyone else officially announces,” said Ahmed Elsayed, a spokesperson for Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (D-Md.), who has been campaigning for the White House for nearly a year and a half and has already visited all 99 counties in Iowa.

By the first week of January, Delaney’s campaign will have 21 staffers on the ground in Iowa, the first state to hold presidential caucuses, as well as three people in New Hampshire, where the first primaries will take place.

Elsayed said that staffing up early in key primary states is part of a strategy to recruit aides, organizers and advisers before prospective candidates with higher national profiles ramp up their ground operations.

Among those making staffing moves is Warren, who deployed five staffers across the four early primary states this year: two in New Hampshire and three in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

Likewise, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael Swalwell'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over MORE (D-Calif.), who is also considering a White House bid, dispatched one full-time aide to Iowa to work on midterm campaigns ahead of the November election.

Iowa is among the most crucial states for potential candidates to get staffers on the ground early. Not only is it the first state to vote in presidential nominating contests, but its system of caucuses requires voters to show up at political meetings to publicly declare their candidate preference.

“It’s important to make sure you have people because this process is unique,” said Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “Where we’ve seen campaigns struggle in the past is when they treat it like any normal primary or general election.”

“This is about building relationships," he said. "You’re asking people, not to just take 10 minutes to stop by a polling booth, you’re asking people to come to a meeting.”

Price said that prospective candidates were having conversations with Democratic operatives and activists across the Hawkeye State and that those talks have accelerated in recent weeks.

The searches aren’t just limited to Iowa.

Earlier this month, Robert Becker, a veteran operative for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Connecticut in final presidential primary of year Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris MORE (I-Vt.), traveled to South Carolina to begin scoping out the state in advance of a potential second White House run for the progressive firebrand senator, according to a CNBC report. A person with knowledge of the visit confirmed the trip to The Hill.

Trav Robertson, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a longtime party operative, said the state saw a flurry of activity from national Democrats and prospective 2020 contenders throughout the 2018 midterm elections, and that he expected campaign staffing to ramp up in early January.

“I think you got everybody making the calls,” he said. “The entire group of candidates are making the phone calls trying to remain relevant and involved.”

Roughly three dozen Democrats are said to be weighing potential presidential bids, setting up the possibility of a highly competitive primary season in 2020.

So far, only Delaney has officially launched his campaign, but other prospective candidates appear to be moving toward announcements of their own.

Earlier this month, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro formed an exploratory committee to test the waters for a potential presidential bid. He said at the time that he plans to announce his decision on Jan. 12.

A number of Democrats, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, have also been making rounds to early primary states for months.

Those visits included stumping for Democrats running in the midterms and, in some cases, testing possible campaign messages.

And just this week, Nathan Barankin, the chief of staff for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE (D-Calif.), left his Senate post to take on a role at Harris’s political action committee, Fearless for the People PAC, a move likely to bolster speculation that the California Democrat is preparing for a White House run.

Amy Kennedy, executive director of the state Democratic Party in New Hampshire, said that early staffing decisions are likely to be especially crucial given the large slate of would-be presidential candidates.

“I think the first staffers determine the culture of the organization that you’re building,” said Kennedy, who previously served as the deputy political director for former President Obama’s 2012 campaign in New Hampshire. “They determine what kind of operation you run and how your campaign fosters its longevity and well-being and overall success.”