Depleted Dems look to Senate for 2020 nominee

Depleted Dems look to Senate for 2020 nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate is emerging as Democrats’ most promising recruiting ground for a presidential candidate in 2020 — in part because of the party’s deep losses in gubernatorial mansions. 

The ranks of Democratic governors have been hit, with a string of losses reducing their numbers to a paltry 16.

That’s leaving the Senate as perhaps the most likely place for the next Democratic star to rise. 

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Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race MORE (Mass.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) have the most star wattage of Democratic senators, according to lawmakers and strategists who spoke with The Hill. 

Other names mentioned include Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Brown confirms he won't enter 2020 race: 'I think it's a good field' GM officially sells Ohio plant, months after Trump touted sale MORE, Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer MORE, New York Sen. ­Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Harris proposes keeping schools open for 10 hours a day MORE, Minnesota Sen. Amy ­Klobuchar and incoming California Sen. Kamala Harris. Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineProgressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Lawmakers wager local booze, favorite foods in World Series bets José Andrés: Food served in the Capitol came from undocumented immigrants MORE, the party’s vice presidential nominee this year, is another possibility.

“Elizabeth Warren would be at the top of my list. I think she would be a great candidate. I think Sherrod Brown would be a great candidate,” said Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist who served in Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDemocrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' Legacy of California's Prop. 187 foreshadows GOP's path ahead MORE’s White House and on Obama’s transition team.

“We don’t have very many governors left, honestly,” he said when asked if any state leaders are in the upper echelons of potential presidential hopefuls. “So, no.”

“I’m sure there are some, but they aren’t at the top of my radar screen,” he added. 

Some float Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as possible Democratic nominees in 2020. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.), who was once seen as a promising White House candidate, has seen his stock plunge recently because of federal bribery charges filed against two former advisers and several other people in his administration. 

Governors have been a source of successful presidential picks for both parties, while presidential candidates from the Senate have found it difficult to win national races. 

Governors can tout their executive leadership and their experience balancing budgets. Senators have to defend tough votes, often on procedural issues that can be murky. 

President Obama was the first sitting senator to be elected president since Sen. John Kennedy in 1960. In contrast, the two Democratic presidents preceding Obama were both governors: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Recent candidates who ran for president from the Senate and failed include 2008 GOP nominee John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says husband John McCain would be 'disgusted' by state of GOP Meghan McCain to Trump Jr. on 'The View': 'You and your family have hurt a lot of people' Trump Jr. defends father on 'The View': He's 'controversial,' but 'took on the establishment' MORE (Ariz.), 2004 Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal GOP senators press State Department for Hunter Biden, Burisma records Krystal Ball hits media over questions on Sanders's electability MORE (Mass.) and 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole (Kan.).

Those who say a successful Democratic candidate could emerge from the Senate note that senators will be on the front lines in high-profile battles with the Trump administration. 

Warren and Gillibrand already have stepped up in recent days to rally Democratic colleagues to oppose controversial Cabinet picks by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE

Warren last month demanded that Trump withdraw his nomination of Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attends football game with Jeff Sessions' Alabama Senate race opponent Bradley Byrne Impeachment tests Barr-Trump relationship Tide, Tigers and Trump: President hopes for home-field advantage in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) to serve as attorney general. She urged fellow senators not to “compromise with racism,” alluding to comments Sessions allegedly made decades ago.

She also exhorted fellow Democrats not to “roll over” and accept what she called special-interest giveaways to drug companies in the 21st Century Cures bill, which passed the Senate this week. It was seen as a dress rehearsal for the bigger policy fights of next year. 

Gillibrand mobilized her colleagues to take a tougher stand against Republican efforts to lower the threshold for confirming Gen. James Mattis to serve as secretary of Defense. She argued that giving Mattis a special waiver to avoid the rule prohibiting Defense secretaries who have been retired from the military for less than seven years might undermine civilian oversight of the Pentagon. 

A Democratic aide said there was little Democratic criticism of the proposed waiver before Gillibrand spoke up. 

But while some Democrats are jockeying to play leading roles opposing Trump next year and others are chatting privately about who might emerge as the eventual nominee, lawmakers are loath to discuss it publicly, a reflection of the deep uncertainty about the future of the party. 

Many Democrats are exhausted in the wake of this year’s grueling and acrimonious election, which ended, from their point of view, with the shock election of Trump. 

“It’s way too soon for that kind of speculation. We haven’t even sworn in the next president,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate fight derails bipartisan drug pricing bills Senators push for deal on impeachment trial rules to avoid political brawl Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid MORE (Ill.).

A constellation of Democratic leaders appear ready to move on from the spotlight. 

President Obama is leaving office, and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaBloomberg threatens to shake up 2020 primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Michelle Obama unveils all-star lineup for 2020 get-out-the-vote push MORE has expressed no interest in entering politics despite pleas from some Democrats. 

While 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton3 ways government can help clean up Twitter Intelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations The Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats MORE won the popular vote over Trump, her political career seems over.

Vice President Biden, 74, sparked a round of media chatter earlier this week when he told reporters Monday that he would run for the White House in 2020. He appeared to be joking.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE, who finished second to Clinton in the primary, is an independent from Vermont and not a Democrat. He would be 79 in 2020. 

Democratic lawmakers and strategists say talk of a party with a leadership vacuum at the top has failed to recognize what they say is a deep pool of young talent in the Senate. 

“I think it’s time for a new generation of leaders to emerge. There are a number of my colleagues in the Senate who have great progressive credentials and the ability to appeal to millennials,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“I feel very strongly if we want to inspire young people to be part of the winning Democratic coalition, you need to present them with some new talent and new leadership,” he added. 

Warren, 67, is a relative newcomer to national politics who won her Senate seat in 2012. Several of her colleagues with White House buzz are in their 40s or early 50s. 

“There’s a lot of talk about our bench being weak, but that’s just looking at the top tier leaving — Obama, Clinton, Biden, [Senate Democratic Leader Harry] Reid [Nev.] and [House Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi [Calif.] who are either old or retiring. But if you look at the Senate, and we control nearly half the body, there’s a lot of talent,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. 

“It’s talented, it’s young, it’s diverse,” the aide said, citing Booker, Murphy, Harris and Gillibrand.