Dem governors struggle for attention in crowded 2020 race

Dem governors struggle for attention in crowded 2020 race
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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has been highlighting the perils of a changing climate and the opportunities of new energy industries for decades. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) became the first governor to implement net neutrality rules. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed some of the strongest new gun control regulations in recent memory. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored voting rights to more than 150,000 former felons.

In different times, successful governors would rocket to the top of the Democratic field, with clear resumes of accomplishments to contrast with senators more accustomed to talking than passing bills.

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But this year, the four governors likely to enter the race for president in the coming days and weeks begin as distinct long shots against rising rock stars already in the race. 


They all hope a year of campaigning across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will allow them to persuade primary voters who might be more eager to beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE than to pick a groundbreaking nominee.


“People judge action, not just oratory, and governors act. We build, we invent, governors do things,” Inslee said in an interview.

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Asked how he would contrast his record with a sitting senator, Inslee rattled off a litany of policy achievements he will present to Iowa voters when he announces his bid in coming days.


“None of them have created the best paid family leave, the highest minimum wage, the first net neutrality bill, a good gender pay equity, the best voting rights act, the largest transportation package. They haven’t built a birdhouse in Washington, DC. The largest expansion of early childhood education and financial aid. I’ve done these things. Other people have just talked about them,” Inslee said.

Hickenlooper, too, is expected to enter the race with a rally in Denver in the coming week or so. He has identified a campaign manager and brought aboard one of 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIf Mueller's report lacks indictments, collusion is a delusion Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report The wisdom of Trump's lawyers, and the accountability that must follow Mueller's report MORE’s top fundraisers as well as one of the Democratic Party’s best-known pollsters.

Bullock is likely to enter the race later this year, after his Republican-controlled legislature wraps up work on the state budget. His team has slowly hired staff, and he has been escorted around Iowa by Attorney General Tom Miller (D), a longtime mentor.


McAuliffe, who has his own fundraising base from his years as a top party official close to the Clintons, is also likely to announce he will run sometime after the middle of March.

History argues that Democrats have a better chance to win the White House when they nominate a governor than when they look elsewhere.

Since 1900, four of the eight governors who have won the Democratic nomination have gone on to win the White House — Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe wisdom of Trump's lawyers, and the accountability that must follow Mueller's report JOBS for Success Act would recognize that all people have potential Howard Schultz is holding the Democratic Party hostage MORE, Jimmy Carter, Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Just four of the 13 non-governors to win the nomination have won the White House, and only one Democratic non-governor — Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez's engagement win Obama's endorsement Pence lobbies anti-Trump donors to support reelection: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE — has won the White House in the last 50 years.

But today’s Democratic Party is not the party that nominated Southern centrists or New England elites.

“Our party is young people, people of color and women,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who rocketed from relative obscurity to become a front-runner for the 2004 Democratic nomination. “I want a ticket that’s really going to turn on our voter base, because we have to get them out. We have to get them out, because if we don’t, we don’t win.”

Making matters more complex for those governors is the fact that they are straight white men running against the most diverse field ever to seek the presidency, a field stacked with African-Americans, women and a former Cabinet secretary who is Latino. 

Straight white men have dominated American politics since the founding of the republic. Now, for the first time in history, being a member of the most advantaged group in society is actually a disadvantage.

“Somebody asked me about that. They said ‘hey, you’re a straight white male.’ And my answer was, ‘nobody’s perfect,’ ” Inslee quipped.

“I approach this with a lot of humility because I have never experienced what a lot of people have. I’ve never been pulled over by a cop because I’m an African-American teenager driving through a white neighborhood. I’ve never been talked over because I’m a woman at a meeting. So I’ve not experienced that evidence of long pernicious practices in our society,” Inslee said.


Behind the scenes, strategists plotting governors’ runs for office are privately wrestling with how to approach a field of diverse opponents who offer voters something new — and who are generating both huge crowds and eye-popping fundraising numbers.

Thousands have turned up for huge announcement events held by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris to pitch using federal funds to give teachers pay raises Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (D-Minn.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Booker endorses New Jersey marijuana legalization bill MORE (D-N.J.).

Each of those candidates raised millions in their first days in the race — and another senator, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (I-Vt.), pulled in more than $10 million in the week after he said he would run again.


The strategists said they hope to convince voters that a well-stocked resume is a more reliable barometer of future success than ambitious appeals to liberal aspirations.

And they hope that in the course of a year of campaigning, governors will break through after the spotlight fades from the front-runners.

“The media anoints the celebrity candidates, but when you actually talk to voters, they’re thoughtful and they’re taking their time,” said Anna Greenberg, the Democratic pollster plotting Hickenlooper’s bid. “They’re not looking for purity. They don’t have litmus tests. There’s obviously a baseline set of progressive values you need to hold.”

Top aides to all four governors said Democratic partisans value one quality above all others, including race or gender: An ability to beat Trump.


“The 2019-20 primary electorate is really different because of Trump. People think we’re in such a crisis,” Greenberg said. “Your average Democratic primary voters are interested in someone who can beat Trump and fix things.”

But the evolution of the Democratic electorate, in which minority voters, young voters and women are likely to play a larger role than ever in selecting the nominee, is a factor that none are ignoring.

“Our party cannot run two white guys on the ticket. If you’re going to be the straight white male, then you have to have a running mate who’s not,” said Dean, who is remaining neutral in the primary. “I’m like 80 percent of the Democrats, I just want somebody who’s going to beat Trump.”