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 BookerHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report MORE (N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll Omar controversies shadow Dems at AIPAC MORE (Mass.), to name a couple — have dispatched trusted aides and advisers across the country to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

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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 TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' 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 Kevin DelaneyFive things to watch as AIPAC conference kicks off Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements 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 SwalwellConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Swalwell on Hicks testimony: 'She's going to have to tell us who she lied for' in Trump admin Trump reignites criticism of McCain months after senator's death 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.”

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“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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll O'Rourke tests whether do-it-yourself campaign can work on 2020 stage 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Lessons from the 1999 U.S. military intervention in Kosovo Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll 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 HarrisHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Top Dem: 'Certainly a possibility' that Congress will call Barr, Mueller to testify publicly Biden, Sanders edge Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups in Fox News poll 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.”