Long-shot Dems see little downside in running for president

Long-shot Dems see little downside in running for president
© Greg Nash/Getty images

Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Lawmakers call for universal basic income amid coronavirus crisis Democrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' MORE. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyJohn Delaney endorses Biden Nevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Lobbying world MOREEric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellKey House chairman cautions against remote voting, suggests other options amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Congress tiptoes toward remote voting MORE.

Their names don't spark the same nods of recognition as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Top Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden spar over coronavirus response MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTop Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points GE employees urge company to use laid-off workers to make ventilators 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 GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads Poll shows Daines, Bullock neck and neck in Montana Senate race Progressive challenger: How we overcame Chuck Schumer meddling MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPolitics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election Poll shows Daines, Bullock neck and neck in Montana Senate race MORE and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website We need a massive economic response to counter the threat of the coronavirus 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 BlasioFEMA sending refrigerator trucks to NYC for coronavirus deaths De Blasio: Police will pull riders from crowded New York subway cars The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs off Easter goal MORE's polling average is 0.3 percent, just behind Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Progressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE's (N.Y.) 0.4 percent.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Gabbard20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order The Hill's Morning Report — ,000,000,000,000: GOP unveils historic US rescue effort Gillibrand endorses Biden for president 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 LowenthalHouse Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill Federal lawmakers finally have a real plan to fight plastic pollution — will they step up to the plate? Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution 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 InsleeGovernors, health experts warn coronavirus restrictions must stay in place Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Washington state limits funerals to immediate family members only MORE, the Washington state governor, is billing himself as the climate change candidate.

Seth MoultonSeth MoultonAsian American lawmaker warns of fear of racism over coronavirus stigma Pressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill 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 PelosiMeadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Overnight Health Care: More states order residents to stay at home | Trump looks to sell public on coronavirus response | Judges block Ohio, Texas abortion bans | Dems eye infrastructure in next relief bill 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 TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House 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.