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) RyanDemocrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' Democrats walk out of Trump's address: 'It's like watching professional wrestling' Trump set to confront his impeachment foes MORE. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyLobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line John Delaney drops out of presidential race, Krystal and Saagar react MOREEric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellChris Wallace: 'Just insane' Swalwell is talking impeaching Trump again McCarthy says Trump did not interfere in Roger Stone case House intelligence briefing on worldwide threat assessment delayed MORE.

Their names don't spark the same nods of recognition as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' 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 HickenlooperSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Lobbying world GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight Iowa and New Hampshire haters should think twice MORE and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetToward 'Super Tuesday' — momentum, money and delegates Trump seeks split-screen moments in early primary states Sanders calls James Carville 'a political hack' 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 BlasioBloomberg compared civil libertarians, teachers union to NRA 'extremists' in 2013: report De Blasio endorses Sanders for president While Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders MORE's polling average is 0.3 percent, just behind Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Gillibrand proposes creating new digital privacy agency Lobbying world 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 GabbardSanders leads Biden in latest Nevada poll Yang: NYC should implement universal basic income The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 LowenthalA disaster for diplomacy and the Zionist dream Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Bill targets single-use plastics in push to make manufacturers responsible 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 InsleeAndrew Yang ends presidential bid Bloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated MORE, the Washington state governor, is billing himself as the climate change candidate.

Seth MoultonSeth MoultonTrump set to confront his impeachment foes Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo 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: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' Short defends Trump's tweets as a 'very effective way' to communicate with Americans Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump 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 TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record 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.