Warren's early 2020 bid raises stakes for rest of Dem field

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Amazon warehouse workers strike on Prime Day Elizabeth Warren backs Amazon workers striking on Prime Day MORE (D-Mass.) fired the starting gun this week in the race for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nominating contest, putting pressure on other potential candidates weighing campaigns of their own.

The early entrance not only gives Warren a head start on hiring campaign staff and raising money, which will be crucial in a potentially long and crowded primary season, but it also provides ample opportunity for her to set the tenor of the nominating contest by staking out positions that could define the Democratic field.

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“It shows that if somebody is bold enough to go first, then that changes calendars and calculations for everybody else who is forming exploratory committees or thinking of doing so,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist.

“This is akin to California moving its primary up,” he added. “It forces everybody to take another look.”

Democrats are expected to see one of the largest primary fields in history in 2020. Dozens of political giants, party elders and rising stars ranging from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires MORE (I-Vt.) to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) are among those weighing White House runs.

Several would-be candidates — Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires Buttigieg: 'Medicare for all,' free college tuition are 'questionable on their merits' MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke 2020 Democrats upend digital campaign playbook Gillibrand speaks of how she benefits from white privilege MORE (D-N.Y.) among them — are expected to launch presidential bids in the coming weeks, and party officials in early primary states are anticipating a slew of visits from would-be candidates and their advisers.

Warren became the first major candidate to visit Iowa, the first state to vote in presidential nominating contests, over the weekend, making stops in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Des Moines.

The visit came days after the Massachusetts Democrat scooped up several key staffers in the Hawkeye State, including Brendan Summers, the former caucus director for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Kane Miller, a longtime Iowa operative who managed Rep. Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerGOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Youngest black congresswoman says millennial colleagues have 'less fighting over partisan nonsense' The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems make last dash for debate stage MORE’s (D-Iowa) successful campaign against former Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa.) last year.

The hires are an early example of how Democratic contenders are likely not only to compete for votes and media attention, but also aides and advisers with deep experience, especially in the crucial early primary states that can make or break a candidate’s White House ambitions.

For months, potential candidates and their advisers have been courting political operatives in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Those talks have ramped up in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the conversations.

“Each campaign has to decide for themselves what works, but giving yourself enough runway to have those conversations and build those relationships is really important,” said Troy Price, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Warren’s hard-charging entrance into the Democratic nominating contest this week also gave her an early opportunity to define key parts of the progressive platform before other candidates throw their names into the running, Reinish said.

In an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, Warren urged would-be Democratic contenders to reject campaign money from political action committees (PACs) and ultra-wealthy donors, and demanded that any billionaire candidates — Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are two possible contenders — refrain from self-funding their campaigns.

“I think that she’s putting down a marker in an attempt to sort of predefine what the progressive stance is going to be,” Reinish said. “It sort of pre-creates a litmus test.”

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Warren’s trip to Iowa over the weekend may be the first major visit of the year to an early voting state. But a handful of Democrats are planning stops in the coming weeks.

Steyer, for example, is set to travel to Des Moines next week for a town hall event to roll out part of the “5 Rights” platform he’s been touting since November.

Steyer is still weighing whether to mount a White House bid, according to a person familiar with his thinking, who added that the billionaire philanthropist’s existing network of staffers and advisers at his nonprofits and PACs affords him more time to make a decision on 2020.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro formed an exploratory committee last month ahead of a planned Jan. 12 announcement on whether he will seek the White House in 2020.

Castro signaled on Friday that a presidential bid is all but certain, announcing that he will travel to New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, on Jan. 16.

A number of other Democrats are expected to jump into the race soon, but few decisions are being watched as closely as that of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates Biden pitches new subsidies, public option in health care plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE, who has said that he will announce whether he will run in the new year.

If he declares a bid for the Democratic nomination, Biden would enter the primary field with as one of the party’s most formidable contenders.

Since leaving office in 2017, the former vice president and Delaware senator has maintained a sweeping national profile through book tours, speaking engagements and campaign stops boosting Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

While he’s expected to unveil a decision on a 2020 bid soon, any announcement is unlikely to come until at least next month. He said in November that January would be “too early to start” a campaign.