Big Dem names show little interest in Senate

Senate Democrats had the opportunity to recruit a murderers' row of popular and tested candidates with proven fundraising abilities in a handful of key states up for election next year as they seek a path back to the majority.
 
But virtually all of those candidates have taken themselves out of the running, either because they see a bigger prize on the horizon — the White House — or because the allure of serving in the world’s greatest deliberative body is no longer what it once was.
 
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Texas Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (R) was so worried about the prospect of facing former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) that he kept fundraising off the threat even after O’Rourke said he would not run.
 
 
Democrats see North Carolina Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDemocratic challenger leads Tillis by 1 point in North Carolina poll GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner MORE (R) as one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year, but Attorney General Josh Stein (D), a rising star on the Democratic side, will run for reelection instead.
 
Former Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Lyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO MORE (D) has been mum about his future plans, though Democrats hold out hope he will challenge Tillis.
 
Democrats are also optimistic about Georgia, where Stacey Abrams (D) continues to mull a long-shot bid for the White House or a run against Sen. David Perdue (R). Abrams said Thursday she is considering both races.
 
"I am thinking about it. I truly am," Abrams said of running for president on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "I think that the timing for me is first deciding about the Senate because I do think you cannot run for an office unless you know that’s the job you want to do."
 
Some Democrats have been frustrated that some of their best candidates would opt for a long-shot presidential bid over helping their team retake the Senate.
 
But most strategists insist they are not concerned with the number of high-profile candidates who have taken a pass. 
 
"We haven’t had to find this many candidates since that period. It’s still the first week in April," said J.B. Poersch, who runs the Senate Majority PAC, which backs Democrats running for Senate. "Democrats are going to have great Senate candidates in many states."
 
Republicans say top-tier Democrats taking a pass on Senate bids bodes well for their narrow majority.
 
"I think it’s a testament to the strength of Republican senators that are up for reelection in each of those states," said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "I think they’ve done a tremendous job of appealing to their constituents' needs and finding the right issues to work on in the Senate, and these Democrats recognize that connection with these constituents and are deathly afraid of challenging them in 2020."
 
The hesitation about running for Senate is a common thread among several Democrats who have opted out. 
 
Some who have said no or are leaning against running don’t see the Senate as an attractive place to serve — either because the White House is a more appealing idea or, in several cases, because the institution itself is diminished.
 
"Currently the Senate is broken. Unfortunately there is not sufficient self-awareness on the part of senators to know it is broken, and there is no appetite to fix it," said an adviser to one of the Democrats who has said no to a Senate bid. "Many of those who aren’t running for Senate are people who like to get things done. They would wither and die as junior members of the current Senate."
 
Former governors who come to Washington routinely feel stymied by the Senate’s slow pace.
 
 
For others such as Abrams and O’Rourke, who harnessed the energy of the Democratic base to become stars even though they lost, becoming one of 100 senators — and possibly serving in the minority, at that — is no longer as intriguing.
 
Those who have said no aren’t worried about the strains of raising money or mounting a campaign.
 
Abrams is a darling of the small-dollar base that has fueled eye-popping fundraising reports. Bullock and Hickenlooper both have dedicated fundraising bases of their own. O’Rourke raised a mind-boggling sum in his failed bid against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R) last year.
 
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And the small-dollar base is proving it is still active and interested in Senate contests.
 
Former astronaut and Navy commander Mark Kelly (D) proved as much in Arizona, where he raised more than $4 million in just his first month and a half as a candidate against Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Nikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (R).
 
"Potential candidates are reacting to where the Twitter and cable chatter is focused, and that’s on the presidential horse race and 24-hour Trump-a-palooza," said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
 
In recent history, well-known candidates have not been shoo-ins, especially at a moment when Americans express deep distrust of political elites.
 
In recent years, former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) lost a comeback bid. Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) both failed to win Senate seats. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) both lost bids to win their old jobs back.
 
 
"Republicans have a terrible map, vulnerable incumbents and a toxic agenda, which is why even in this early stage we’re seeing a lot of interest to run and hold them accountable," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "In the months ahead, you’ll continue to see strong, compelling and competitive candidates in these battleground states."
 
Though the cycle is still young, several new faces have showed early promise. Kelly’s fundraising haul shocked Arizona political observers. In Colorado, former state Sen. Mike Johnston (D) delivered a surprisingly solid $1.8 million in his first quarter.
 
Texas Democrats are excited about Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Joaquin Castro calls out MSNBC contributor for confusing him with twin brother Julián on air MORE (D), and another potential contender, M.J. Hegar (D), who raised millions after going viral online during her failed 2018 House contest. In Maine, state House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) is considering a bid against Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns Stephen King: 'It's time for Susan Collins to go' MORE (R).
 
"This is a really critical time for Democrats to build a farm team by attracting new candidates and focus just as much on gaining control of Congress so that a Democratic president can actually see their agenda secured into law," LaBolt said.