Long-shot Dems see little downside in running for president

Long-shot Dems see little downside in running for president
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Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John Ryan2020 Democrat: Pelosi is 'juggling a caucus that's divided' 2020 Democrat: Pelosi is 'juggling a caucus that's divided' 2020 Democrat: Harriet Tubman will be on 'within the first year of my presidency' MORE. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyEx-Democratic lawmaker: Medicare needs have changed 'dramatically' over last 50 years Ex-Democratic lawmaker: Medicare needs have changed 'dramatically' over last 50 years Five takeaways from first Democratic debate lineup MOREEric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellCracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment 2020 Democrat: Trump is a national security risk MORE.

Their names don't spark the same nods of recognition as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE (I-Vt.), but these are three of the 24 Democrats running for president. Each is polling at less than 1 percent — and they're hardly alone.

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperPoll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBullock qualifies for second Democratic debate Bullock qualifies for second Democratic debate Bullock to participate in local town halls instead of Democratic debates MORE and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate MORE (Colo.) also have national polling averages under 1 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. 

So do two candidates with arguably more national name recognition. New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioPoll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement MORE's polling average is 0.3 percent, just behind Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Trump's 2020 campaign strategy is to be above the law MORE's (N.Y.) 0.4 percent.

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All of these candidates, along with a few others in the crowded race, are decided long shots to win the nomination. But all stand to benefit from a race that will bring attention even to those candidates pulling in relatively few votes. 

“There are candidates who are running to win, and there are candidates who are running to raise their profile,” said Chris Kofinis, who served as a senior adviser to the presidential campaigns of Wesley Clarke in 2004 and John Edwards in 2008.

The long-shot candidates say they don’t see themselves that way. They see a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination, arguing that if the front-runners falter, they have as good a shot as anyone at catching fire. With the unpredictability of Trump-era politics, they say it can pay just to have your name in the mix.

In reality, many of the candidates know they are doomed, say veteran Democrats, but see the race as a chance to boost their profiles and position themselves for future opportunities.

“The next six months are going to distinguish which ones are really running and which ones aren’t,” Kofinis said.

Some candidates are young and playing the long game. Eric Swalwell, the California congressman, and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardJuan Williams: Trump's incredible shrinking GOP Juan Williams: Trump's incredible shrinking GOP Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale MORE, the Hawaii congresswoman, are both 38; Julián Castro, the Obama-era Housing and Urban Development secretary, is 44; and Ryan, the Ohio congressman, is 45.

With the first Democratic primary debate just weeks away, experts say a failed presidential bid now could set some candidates up for a stronger run in 2024, 2028 or beyond.

Other White House hopefuls may be gunning for Cabinet posts in a new Democratic administration — Commerce or Labor secretary — or aiming for a future bid for a higher office, such as senator or governor. Most wouldn't mind being picked as a vice presidential running mate, as front-runner Joe Biden was after his failed 2008 White House bid — though that seems highly unlikely for a candidate pulling in just 1 percent support.

The bottom line is these candidates see little downside in a failed shot at the presidency. A White House run in this never-ending campaign media cycle — chock-full of CNN and MSNBC town halls, televised debates, and cable news hits — will raise these candidates' profiles no matter how their campaigns fare. That could lead to future book deals, speaking gigs or cable news contracts.

Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalTrump administration signals support for uranium mining that could touch Grand Canyon Trump administration signals support for uranium mining that could touch Grand Canyon Overnight Energy: Inslee says DNC won't hold climate debate | Democrats fear Trump opening door to mining in Grand Canyon | Interior pick gets surprising support from greens | Ocasio-Cortez says effective climate plan needs T MORE (D-Calif.), who serves with many of the candidates but has yet to endorse, said the motivation is “all of the above.”

“Just as likely, it’s that running for president could be a stepping stone to other things,” he said. “Just the fact that they are a presidential candidate who throws their support ultimately to the person that wins” could lead to other opportunities.

Yet another possible explanation: Some long-shot candidates are running to draw attention to a pet issue or cause they feel is being ignored by some of the top-tier contenders.

Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleePoll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Debunking Democrats' claims about fossil fuel tax breaks MORE, the Washington state governor, is billing himself as the climate change candidate.

Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonBullock to participate in local town halls instead of Democratic debates Bullock to participate in local town halls instead of Democratic debates The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate MORE, a Marine and Iraq War veteran who is a congressman from Massachusetts, launched his mental health plan this week by disclosing that he had personally been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.   

“I'm sharing my experience because I want people to know they're not alone and they should feel empowered to get the treatment they need,” tweeted Moulton, whose polling average stands at just 0.3 percent.

Ryan, the insurgent who challenged Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty The DNC's climate problems run deep Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE for minority leader after Democrats’ 2016 drubbing, has turned his focus to job loss and the opioid epidemic in Rust Belt districts like his, which he says have too long been ignored by his party.

“Come to Youngstown, Ohio, and see what communities are actually going through, and you'll see why I'm running and why I have a shot,” Ryan told The Hill during an interview at the Capitol. “There's a lot of communities that look like that. And people are fed up and tired of being ignored.”

Ryan also pointed to past presidential primaries, including 2004, where candidates surged and dropped behind at different moments of the campaign.

“If you go back and look at the history of these races, the person in the lead or the top two people or three people in the lead never end up being the ones who win,” Ryan said. “You can ask President Joe Lieberman or President Howard Dean or any of these guys. It's very, very early.”

One member of the long-shot pool who has had more time than others to get his name out there is John Delaney. The wealthy businessman and former Maryland congressman became the first Democrat to enter the race when he announced his campaign in 2017, planning to use his own money to build name recognition in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire. But so far, the strategy hasn’t paid dividends.

Asked if he’s running for some other political position, Delaney replied, “I’m running for president. That’s all I got to say about it. Opinions are like people’s mouths. Everyone has one.”

Still, he conceded that it has been a challenge to break through the news cycle when there are 24 Democrats vying for the nomination, including a former vice president and a handful of governors and senators.

Amid an increasingly prominent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Delaney still sees a lane for a centrist, bipartisan, pro-business candidate like himself.

But he realizes he needs to be more aggressive — even when rolling out a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan this week — if he wants to rise above all the noise. He's done this by taking shots at President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE, tearing into the president last month for walking out of an infrastructure meeting with Congressional leaders.

"This was a crystal clear example of him putting his own self interest ahead of the needs of the country," Delaney said of Trump.

Some have argued that the historically large primary field reflects the enormous enthusiasm among Democrats as they look to oust Trump. But not everyone is thrilled that so many have jumped in, worried that it could drag out the nominating process and efforts to unify around a single candidate ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

“I think we’ve entered the theater of the absurd with this many candidates in the race, where reality and logic suggests the overwhelming majority simply won’t be competitive,” said one Democratic campaign strategist.

“Try to convince candidates they can’t win when they’ve convinced themselves they can is a losing proposition. … A lot of it is ego, man. It's ego,” the strategist added.