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 HickenlooperLeft off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa Yang says he would not run as a third-party candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Hurricane Dorian devastates the Bahamas, creeps along Florida coast 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 Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away 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'RourkeO'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats NRA deems O'Rourke 'Salesman of the Month' after Arizona gun store sells out of AR-15s during 'Beto Special' MSNBC 'Climate in Crisis' special draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot MORE made in the Texas Senate race last year against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition 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 CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit 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 TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE's 2016 campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy Cruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt MORE told Max Greenwood this week that he was "seriously considering" a 2020 Senate campaign to challenge Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Meghan McCain: Lewandowski Senate run would be 'an absolutely ridiculous crap show' Super PAC targets Lewandowski with ad amid Senate speculation 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 ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani 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 SandersWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll The polls are asking the wrong question Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt 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 BezosPortraits of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeff Bezos headed for National Portrait Gallery Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices 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 BookerIowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Booker aide sounds alarm about campaign's funding 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum 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 BidenUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' Warren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll 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 WarrenWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Warren avoids attacks while building momentum Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt 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 HarrisWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Iowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Warren avoids attacks while building momentum MORE (D-Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll The polls are asking the wrong question Booker aide sounds alarm about campaign's funding 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 KingIowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats Ocasio-Cortez rips Steve King after he shares video drinking from toilet-fountain hybrid at border Steve King says he drank from toilet at detention center 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 Yang2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum Yang: 'Cancel culture' has become source of 'fear' for Americans Hundreds of thousands turn out in New York, other major cities for climate marches MORE's presidential campaign announced he will challenge Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Nadler's House committee holds a faux hearing in search of a false crime Lewandowski says he's under no obligation to speak truthfully to the media 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 BrownBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Senate Democrats want answers on 'dangerous' Amazon delivery system 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 SteyerAnalysis: 2020 digital spending vastly outpaces TV ads The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy Sanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues 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 BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Williamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system Bennet: 'This generation has a lot to be really angry at us about' MORE (D-Colo.) has six campaign events planned across New Hampshire this weekend.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMSNBC 'Climate in Crisis' special draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot The two most important mental health reforms the Trump administration should consider Sanders searches for answers amid Warren steamroller MORE (D-Minn.) will campaign in Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, S.C., on Saturday.

Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Williamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system 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 BlasioNew York Post hits de Blasio with front-page 'obituary' for 2020 campaign Booker aide sounds alarm about campaign's funding Uber sues New York City to void 'cruising cap' limit 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) John RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Williamson: Climate change result of an 'amoral' economic system Overnight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks 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!