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 Presidential Candidates Democrats decry Trump's push to slash number of accepted refugees Harris on whistleblower complaint: 'This is a cover-up' MORE. John DelaneyJohn Kevin Delaney2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the October showdown 2020 Presidential Candidates Delaney: I wouldn't allow VP's family members to sit on foreign boards MOREEric SwalwellEric Michael Swalwell2020 Presidential Candidates NBA draws bipartisan backlash over China response Former Ukraine envoy Volker to resign as head of McCain Institute MORE.

Their names don't spark the same nods of recognition as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill On The Money: Trump touts China trade deal | Wall Street, Washington see signs for caution | Trump threatens sanctions on Turkey | Sanders proposes sharp hike to corporate taxes 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 HickenlooperGardner dodges questions about Trump's call for Biden probe 2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster 2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' MORE and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the October showdown The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate 2020 Presidential Candidates 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 Blasio2020 Presidential Candidates Cooperate, or else: New York threatens fines to force people to help block immigration enforcement DNC raises qualifying thresholds for fifth presidential debate MORE's polling average is 0.3 percent, just behind Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' Three 2020 candidates have missed about half of Senate votes 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 GabbardSaagar Enjeti: Tuesday's Democratic debate already 'rigged' against Gabbard, Sanders Former 2020 candidate Mike Gravel: 'No question' Sanders is physically fit to be president So many issues, too many candidates and so little time to debate 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 LowenthalDemocrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020 House leaves for six-week August recess House passes bill opposing BDS, exposing divide among Democrats 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 Inslee2020 Presidential Candidates Warren environmental justice plan focuses third of climate investment on disadvantaged communities Poll: Warren closing in on Biden's lead with climate-focused voters MORE, the Washington state governor, is billing himself as the climate change candidate.

Seth MoultonSeth Moulton2020 Presidential Candidates Rep. Joe Kennedy has history on his side in Senate bid Mass shootings have hit 158 House districts so far this year 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 says Trump sanctions package on Turkey 'falls very short' Graham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report 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.