The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape

The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape
© Greg Nash

Welcome to The Hill's Campaign Report, your weekly rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We're Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley, here's what we're watching this week on the campaign trail. 




The battle for the Senate is taking shape, with new developments in a handful of key swing states that could determine the balance of power in the upper chamber in 2020…


THEN THERE WERE 23: Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperKrystal Ball dismisses Rahm Emanuel's 'Medicare for All' criticism as a 'corporatist mantra' Trump says remark about Colorado border wall was made 'kiddingly' Colorado governor mocks Trump for saying he's building wall there MORE (D) has put an end to his presidential aspirations, announcing on Thursday that he was dropping out of the race to represent Democrats in 2020. But when one door closes, another one often opens, and that opening for Hickenlooper appears to be in Colorado's Senate race.

The ex-presidential candidate revealed this month that he was giving "serious thought" to a Senate run after being encouraged by a number of Democratic colleagues. 

"I've been a geologist, a small businessman, a mayor, a governor and a candidate for president of the United States. At each step, I've always looked forward with hope," Hickenlooper said. 

Hickenlooper, who is also the former mayor of Denver, is widely known throughout the state, and could prove to be a formidable opponent to Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' MORE (Colo.), who is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans running for reelection in 2020. 


While Hickenlooper would have to get through the state's Democratic primary first, recent polling suggests that he may not have too much trouble with that. A Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll conducted late last month showed Hickenlooper leading the primary pack at 61 percent. Meanwhile, his closest competitor trailed at 10 percent. 

Making inroads in the Senate was once seen as a tall order for Democrats, who have struggled to pass legislation approved by the Democratic-controlled lower chamber while in the minority in the upper chamber. But the party's officials and insiders are no doubt feeling more optimistic with Hickenlooper, a power player in Colorado politics, now considering jumping into the race. 

Read The Hill's Reid Wilson on the dynamics around Hickenlooper's potential Senate bid in Colorado.


NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Hickenlooper is not the only 2020 candidate who has been pushed by his fellow Democrats to run for Senate instead. 

Democrats have looked to the inroads former Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeDeval Patrick enters 2020 race O'Rourke says he 'absolutely' plans to stay in politics Krystal Ball: Buttigieg is 'the boomer candidate' MORE made in the Texas Senate race last year against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House Senators confirm Erdoğan played 'propaganda' video in White House meeting MORE (R) as a sign that the Lone Star State is turning purple. They have also sought to recruit O'Rourke to challenge longtime GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban MORE.

But O'Rourke refused to take the bait on Thursday, telling MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell he would not "in any scenario" run for a seat in the upper chamber. 

O'Rourke's comments will likely disappoint some Democrats who believe he would pose a formidable challenge to Cornyn, who faces a wide primary field. Read The Hill's Jonathan Easley on O'Rourke's campaign relaunch from El Paso.

Six Democrats have lined up to challenge Cornyn in the Lone Star State, most recently, progressive activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who launched her campaign this week. And that may not be it for the field -- an official close to Texas Democratic politics told me another candidate could jump in soon.

Democrats say they are happy with the diverse field, which they argue offers a sharp contrast with Cornyn. But Cruz's former chief of staff and communications adviser, David Polyansky, tells me the large Democratic primary is only good news for Republicans.

"They're going to have to spend so much time and energy headed through the early part of next year not focused on Sen. Cornyn, but focused on each other," Polyansky said. 

"By the time May rolls around, they're going to have a really short window to launch a statewide campaign that cleans up the carnage of not only a large but likely aggressive primary battle." 


ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE's 2016 campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiKey takeaways from first public impeachment hearing Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify MORE told Max Greenwood this week that he was "seriously considering" a 2020 Senate campaign to challenge Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring MORE (D-N.H.). 

Lewandowski, who is originally from Massachusetts but owns a home in New Hampshire, has potential to appeal to Trump voters who supported the president in the 2016 Republican primary. 

Trump gave his stamp of approval to Lewandowski's potential bid, telling "New Hampshire Today" that Lewandowski would make a "fantastic senator." 

But Trump narrowly lost to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family MORE in the state in 2016, and Shaheen is a relatively popular figure in New Hampshire. Shaheen, who served as the state's first female governor and senator, defeated John Sununu and Scott Brown, respectively, in 2008 and 2014, receiving roughly 51 percent of the vote. 

-- Julia Manchester



Trump sought to project confidence about the economy at a rally in New Hampshire on Thursday night, even as some experts warn about the potential for another recession in the near future. The stock market faced its largest drop of the year on Wednesday and the president signaled concern, tabling planned tariffs on China until the end of the holiday season.


But the president accused those who have warned about a slowdown of being ignorant, claiming that they are trying to create panic. Over the course of the New Hampshire rally, the president touted job growth and took credit for the economic gains since he took office in what is certain to be a key theme of his reelection campaign.

Read The Hill's Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels on Trump's New Hampshire rally last night.



Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, won't run for president in 2020. She announced on Tuesday that she plans to expand efforts for her voting rights organization Fair Fight to combat voter suppression in 20 battleground states, The Hill's Max Greenwood reports. 

"We're going to win," she said. "We're going to win because there are only two things stopping us in 2020: making sure people have a reason to vote and that they have the right to vote."

Of course, there may still be an opening for Abrams in the 2020 presidential race. She's long been floated as a potential running mate for the eventual Democratic nominee, and she told The New York Times on Tuesday that she "would be honored" to be considered for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.



When Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.)  suggested this week that The Washington Post covered him negatively because he had spoken critically of its owner, Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Bloomberg's path to the convention — and beyond MORE, it was only the latest example of a 2020 Democratic candidate expressing frustration with the media. Beto O'Rourke appeared exasperated last week after a reporter asked him what Trump could do about racism in the wake of the massing shooting in El Paso -- "Members of the press, what the f---?" Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro expressed similar criticism. So did Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Overnight Health Care: Warren promises gradual move to 'Medicare for All' | Rivals dismiss Warren plan for first 100 days | White House unveils rules on disclosing hospital prices | Planned Parenthood wins case against anti-abortion group MORE (D-N.J.).

In a way, the stepped-up critiques of the press are a remarkable about-face. After all, Democrats have warned for years now that Trump's attacks on the media have undermined trust in an institution critical to democracy. But some Democrats are quick to note that the recent bout of criticism doesn't measure up to the president's "enemy of the people" rhetoric. Rather, they say it's partially due to frustration from certain candidates that their messages are not cutting through the noise of a 23-person field, The Hill's Jonathan Easley reports.


How strong is the front-runner? Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE's allies are growing concerned by his gaffes, which could cut into his case that he's the best candidate to take on Trump, writes The Hill's Amie Parnes.


NEW PLANS THIS WEEK: The 2020 Democrats are fighting to claim Obama's mantle on health care (The Hill) … Harris has unveiled a plan to combat domestic terrorism (The Hill) … Sanders proposes leveraging aid for Israel (The Hill) … Buttigieg has an $80 billion plan to "unleash" rural America's potential (The Hill) … Castro releases plan to raise taxes on the rich, provide relief for low-income Americans (The Hill) … Booker releases plan to combat hate crimes, white supremacist violence (The Hill) … O'Rourke unveils plan to combat white nationalism and gun violence (The Hill).



Joel Mathis: Trump's moment of crisis is here.

David Ignatius: China is a winning issue for Democrats in 2020.

Liz Peek: Trump is winning with China.

Walter Shapiro: Can Warren bring ideas back into politics?

Krystal Ball: Forget conventional wisdom, Bernie Sanders is electable.

Paul Waldman: Is the permanent Democratic majority finally here?

Beto O'Rourke: America's moment of truth has arrived.

Madison Gesiotto: Democrats turn tragedy into politics.

Jorge Renaud: GOP's disregard for venomous Trump rhetoric is inexcusable.



GENERAL ELECTION: A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Trump losing head-to-head match-ups against four of the top Democratic presidential primary contenders.


NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Mass.) is hot on Biden's heels, trailing him by only 1 point in the latest Economist/YouGov survey. The latest Morning Consult survey has a different view, showing Biden ahead of Sanders by 13 points. Meanwhile, the latest poll from The Hill/HarrisX finds that the top 5 contenders -- Biden, Warren, Sanders, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Harris gets key union endorsement amid polling plateau MORE (D-Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE -- all lost between 1 point and 4 points, with Biden maintaining a big lead over the field.


SOUTH CAROLINA: Since June, Biden has faced attacks from his Democratic rivals, questions about his political record and criticism over campaign-trail gaffes. But his support in South Carolina remains strong. A Post and Courier/Change Research poll released this week shows the former veep registering 36 percent support among Democratic voters in the Palmetto State. He's followed by Warren at 17 percent, Sanders at 16 percent, Harris at 12 percent and Buttigieg at 5 percent.


POLL FALLOUT: Sanders campaign rejects idea it is losing ground (The Hill) … Candidates scramble to qualify for third debate as deadline nears (The Hill) … Steyer reaches donor threshold, still needs polls to qualify for September debate (The Hill) … Bullock says DNC rules allow billionaires to "buy their way onto the debate stage" (The Hill).



Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingWhy the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy MSNBC's Donny Deutsch: 'Pathetic' Republicans who stormed closed hearing are 'boring, nerdy-looking white guys' Overnight Defense: Trump lifts sanctions on Turkey | 'Small number' of troops to remain by Syrian oil fields | Defense official's impeachment testimony delayed five hours after Republicans storm secure room MORE (R-Iowa) is in hot water once again, this time for questioning whether there would be "any population of the world left" if not for rape and incest. The remarks were made as an argument against abortion, but he was swiftly condemned from all sides, including by his Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, reports The Hill's Zack Budryk. King is seen as so toxic right now that even some Republicans are offering support for his challenger, write The Hill's Juliegrace Brufke and Cristina Marcos 



The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is reportedly expanding its 2020 target list, taking aim at six more districts won by President Trump in 2016, The Hill's Julia Manchester reports. The DCCC is also overhauling its hiring practices after an outcry over a lack of diversity at the top ranks, Politico reports.

Richard Rodriguez: The DCCC is out of step with Democratic values.


A former staffer for Andrew YangAndrew YangNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE's presidential campaign announced he will challenge Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) in the Democratic primary next year, making him the latest candidate to take on the House Judiciary Committee chairman, according to The Hill's Rachel Frazin.


Former Major League Baseball star Curt Schilling is thinking about running for Congress in Arizona and he's got a fan in Trump, writes The Hill's Brett Samuels.


Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), whose district covers Dayton, has pulled a new Democratic challenger after the mass shooting there. Desiree Tims, a local activist and former aide to Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Warren, Brown press IRS on study reviewing Free File program Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Ohio), will run for the Democratic nomination, The Hill's Aris Folley reports.


Gun control groups seeking to put pressure on vulnerable GOP senators will hold rallies across the country and launch a national ad campaign to urge lawmakers to support universal background checks and a "red flag" law, The Hill's Julia Manchester reports.



Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE became the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to meet the 130,000-donor benchmark needed to make the debate stage in September, The Hill's Max Greenwood reports. But it came at a hefty cost of nearly $10 million. Since announcing his campaign five weeks ago, the billionaire philanthropist and liberal activist has poured millions into digital ads, television spots and donor lists. Of course, he hasn't secured his spot in the debate just yet. He needs to register at least 2 percent in one more qualifying poll before the Aug. 28 cutoff if he hopes to make the stage in Houston.



will launch her new group Fair Fight 2020 in Atlanta on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Castro and Booker will attend the Black Church PAC's candidate lunch forum at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta, which begins at 12:15 p.m. on Friday and at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Warren will campaign in Aiken, S.C., at a town hall event at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday. She'll go to church at Reid Chapel AME on Sunday.

Buttigieg has four events in South Carolina on Saturday: a town hall in Beaufort, a roundtable in Hampton, a roundtable in Pineville and an interview with the College of Charleston. On Sunday, Buttigieg will attend church in Georgetown, followed by a town hall event in Hartsville.

O'Rourke will visit immigrant communities in Mississippi on Friday and then will address the Arkansas Democratic Party on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Biden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel MORE (D-Colo.) has six campaign events planned across New Hampshire this weekend.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-Minn.) will campaign in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, S.C., on Saturday.

Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Williamson announces poverty plan with support for universal basic income, minimum wage Yang seeks donations for 2020 rival Marianne Williamson: 'She has much more to say' MORE will hold a fundraising event on Friday night in Scotts Valley, Calif., followed by another event on Saturday in Santa Barbara.



Last week, we brought you a preview of what the candidates could expect for food at the Iowa State Fair. This week, we saw the candidates sample the favorite dishes. 

The website Eater reported that Mayor Pete Buttigieg ate a pork chop on a stick, a fried bacon ball BLT, fried Oreos, and a rootbeer float, among other delicacies, in the span of four hours -- oh, and he washed it down with chocolate milk. 

The internet also blessed us with these highly-relatable pictures of Buttigieg's experience.



But Buttigieg's fellow mayor, Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDeval Patrick enters 2020 race De Blasio slams Bloomberg run for president: He 'epitomizes the status quo' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington braces for public impeachment hearings MORE of New York City, put up some competition in the food department, scarfing down 11 different Iowa State Fair foods and drinks in under eight hours, according to his campaign.



But it was Congressman Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Tim Ryan endorses Biden for president Strategists say Warren 'Medicare for All' plan could appeal to centrists MORE (D-Ohio) who turned heads on Thursday after he told MSNBC that the best thing he had at the Iowa State Fair was the Busch Light draft beer. 

"I haven't had a Busch Light since college," Ryan said.

Neither have we, Congressman. 

See you next week, everyone! Cheers!