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Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight

Democratic governors worried about drawn-out 2020 fight
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Democratic governors are worried that years of heated political rhetoric have left their voters exhausted ahead of this year’s presidential contest, and that a drawn-out nominating fight risks exacerbating divides within a party that has to be united as it takes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE.

In interviews on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend in Washington, Democrats said they were keeping close tabs on the race for the White House. 

Their anxiety is rising in recent days, after the Senate voted to acquit Trump and after a disastrous Iowa caucus process marred by technical errors.

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“There’s no way to sugarcoat it, we didn’t have our best week,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who heads the Democratic Governors Association. “We underestimate this president at our peril. We underestimate the fight on our hands at our peril.”

As former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE’s front-runner status comes under sustained assault from both the left and moderates after a poor showing in Iowa, many governors who had assumed Biden would lead the ticket are making other plans. 

Eight governors met Saturday morning with former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security The secret weapon in Biden's fight against climate change Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE, a longtime donor to Democratic causes whose unprecedented spending on television advertisements has drawn their attention. 

One Democratic lobbyist in touch with several of the governors said that as Biden’s fortunes have faded, many top Democrats had become “Bloomberg-curious.”

“This is a wild card,” Murphy said. “We have no idea how to assess” his spending.

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The new interest in Bloomberg also mirrors a broader concern that the Democratic debate has grown more negative as the stakes have risen — at the expense of focusing on Trump.

“Maybe the greatest strength of our country and the Democratic Party is our diversity, and not just racial diversity, diversity of thought and diversity of ideas,” said Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE (D), who ended his presidential campaign in December. 

“I don’t think ‘Medicare for All’ is the best policy or the best political path. But we really ought to be focusing on that Trump actually goes over to Davos and talks about cutting Medicare, or that he is still in court trying to take away coverage from pre-existing conditions. So the diversity we have within the party, we can celebrate that as long as we recognize that at the end of the day we have to beat Donald Trump.”

Several governors said they believed the presidential primary would drag on for months, and keeping the peace would help unite the party once it finally chooses a nominee.

"I know there’s a lot of gnashing of teeth going on, but the fact is, I think, the more the merrier,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), who won a 10-way primary in 2018 before ousting Republican Scott Walker. “Any candidate, I don’t care who they are, they have to understand that the people that vote in the primary are significantly different from who votes in the general, and hopefully no one candidate digs themself a hole so deep that they can’t crawl out of it in a general.”

Perhaps most concerning to the Democrats who gathered in Washington over the weekend were early signs that the momentum that fueled their party’s wins in the 2018 midterm elections have ebbed. 

In recent weeks, the party lost big in what looked like a promising special election in Texas, turnout for the Iowa caucuses fell well short of the record set in 2008, and polls have shown Republican enthusiasm skyrocketing.

“I get concerned right now when you look at data points like that and you feel that perhaps the other side is more enthused,” Murphy said. “We underestimate right now the passion and the energy and the enthusiasm of the folks who support the president.”

But several governors said they remained optimistic, and in some cases grateful for a broader field of candidates. Evers said he is happy his constituents will likely cast a meaningful ballot when Wisconsin votes on April 7.

“Whoever the nominee is will have a stark contrast with President Trump,” said Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy Fauci says US could have herd immunity by end of summer 2021 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread MORE (D). “We are ready with a vision for America’s future that works for everybody, and we’re excited to move forward rather than be caught up in this mean-hearted divisive rhetoric and regressive policies.”