2020 Dems jockey for position before midterm elections

2020 Dems jockey for position before midterm elections

Senate Democrats with White House ambitions are stepping up their political activities with the start of the 2020 presidential election cycle less than 70 days away.

Washington’s focus is currently on the battle for control of the Senate and House, which will most likely be decided on Nov. 6. But the following day will mark the unofficial start of the 2020 presidential election cycle, and the field of Democrats vying to challenge President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE will be crowded.

There are at least six likely presidential candidates in the Senate Democratic Caucus: Cory BookerCory BookerHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE (Calif.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games MORE (Ore.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (Mass.), as well as Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Briahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' MORE (Vt.), an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

But there are other possible contenders, ranging from Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (Ohio) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia MORE (Conn.) to House lawmakers such as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's riot lawsuit Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Justice in legal knot in Mo Brooks, Trump case MORE (Calif.). And Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyDirect air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Lobbying world Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis MORE, a three-term lawmaker from Maryland, formally announced his presidential campaign in July 2017. 

The potential candidates have stepped up their jockeying in recent weeks to separate themselves from the pack. Once the new election cycle begins, it will be a race for attention.

“I think it will ramp up quite quickly,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science who served several fellowship stints in the Senate. “There’s a brief period of relapse after the congressional election — people sorting things out and looking at what the next Congress looks like. After that dust settles, the active phase of the 2020 presidential campaign will begin.”

White House aspirants on Capitol Hill will have to contend with a pack of possible presidential hopefuls outside of Washington: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Non-politicians also in the mix include former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and billionaire financier Tom Steyer.

And looming over them all is former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFirst lady leaves Walter Reed after foot procedure Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News MORE, whose candidacy could depend on whether he secures the endorsement of former President Obama.

Warren, who usually eschews reporters on Capitol Hill, has stepped up her media outreach in recent days, delivering a major address at the National Press Club last week to unveil what she described as a “bold” plan to tackle corruption in Washington.

She also sat down with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News last week to discuss her anti-corruption initiative and to criticize the Trump administration for taking a soft approach to Russia's cyber activity, including its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

On Wednesday, Warren called on the Commerce Department’s inspector general to investigate the administration’s exemption process for steel and aluminum tariffs.

“This process appears to be running on an ad hoc basis, with little transparency, and bending to political pressure from well-connected lobbyists and administration officials," she charged.

Congressional Democrats say Warren has a close-knit political team that would like to see her declare her candidacy but wonder whether she has the necessary fire in the belly to make a run.

Democratic donors say winning attention early will be the key to building a fundraising machine in 2019.

“It’s hard to run nationally, to be in Iowa, et cetera, without some base of dollars,” said Alan Kessler, a longtime Democratic fundraiser and donor, who noted that carving out a niche in the political conversation is crucial to attracting campaign dollars.

“People talking you up in turn generates needed fundraising,” he added.

That could be why some candidates such as Warren are becoming more willing to overcome shyness with the press, even though it raises the chances of making a public gaffe.

Kessler said visits to Philadelphia, a Democratic fundraising hub, from politicians in the mix for 2020 have picked up in recent weeks.

Sanders has emerged as a potent force this year, backing progressive candidates who have challenged and sometimes upended rising stars favored by the Democratic establishment. One such example is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who beat former Rep. Gwen GrahamGwendolyn GrahamFlorida Democrats' midterm fantasy faceoff: DeSantis vs. Demings Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Dear Iowans: Apologies for Sen. Rick Scott's lack of decency MORE (D) in Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in Florida.

Sanders congratulated Gillum on his victory and praised him as a candidate who demands “real change.”

The Vermont senator has campaigned for other progressive candidates around the country like Rep. Keith EllisonKeith EllisonAttorneys general looking into online fundraising practices Minnesota AG asks judge to acknowledge trauma of children who witnessed Floyd's death Sunday shows preview: Moderates, Biden reach deal on infrastructure; Chauvin sentenced to 22.5 years in prison MORE (D-Minn.), who is running to become Minnesota’s attorney general and the first statewide elected Muslim official in U.S. history.

Sanders last month joined Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the self-described democratic socialist who knocked off Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership, in a June primary in New York City, to campaign for House candidate James Thompson in Kansas.

Gillibrand shook up the political establishment earlier this summer by being the first prominent Democrat to call for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Behind the scenes, she has argued for Senate Democrats to hammer home to voters the threat that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh poses to Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a constitutional right to an abortion, even though centrist Democrats would prefer to focus on other issues.

Gillibrand’s aggressive style has helped her win attention, but it has turned off some Democrats, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide who described her as overly ambitious and pointed to her past support for gun rights while serving in the House.

The junior senator from New York now says she’s “embarrassed” by her past stance on guns and this year called out the National Rifle Association’s “chokehold” on Congress.

Booker, like Warren, has become more chatty with the press in recent months and is leading opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Some Republican colleagues accused Booker of crossing the line when he declared that senators who don’t oppose the nominee are “complicit in evil.” 

More recently, Booker has been backing away from a possible deal between Trump, Republicans such as Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE (Iowa) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHouse GOP stages mask mandate protest 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Economic growth rose to 6.5 percent annual rate in second quarter MORE (Utah) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate MORE (Ill.) on criminal justice reform.

Booker, a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform, told The Hill this month that it would be tough for him to accept a bill that included fewer sentencing reforms than the bipartisan Senate bill he helped negotiate.

The New Jersey Democrat delivered the keynote address at Netroots Nation, a gathering of liberal activists, a few weeks ago. 

Harris has spent months campaigning and raising money for Democratics this year, collecting more than $5 million for Democratic candidates and gathering political chits that could come in handy during a 2020 primary.

She has called for a thorough reexamination of ICE — stopping short of Gillibrand’s proposal to abolish the 15-year-old agency — and earlier this year took a stand against voting for a government funding bill that failed to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants who lost their legal status when Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Harris has developed a friendly rapport with reporters on Capitol Hill and as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee has emerged as an authoritative voice on Russian interference in U.S. elections.

“Russia attacked our country during the 2016 election and it’s clear they are continuing to attack us today,” she tweeted earlier this month.

Like Booker, Harris is a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform but has held back from endorsing the prison and sentencing reform deal under negotiation in the Senate.

If the deal runs afoul of liberal interest groups, backing it could be a major mistake ahead of the 2020 primary season.

Merkley has garnered less attention than some of his Senate colleagues, but he has worked steadily to lay the groundwork for a possible presidential bid. He visited South Carolina, a key primary state, for a second time this month and has made trips to Iowa and New Hampshire as well this year.

The Oregon Democrat has visited Iowa twice in 2018 and plans to attend the Polk County Steak Fry next month in Des Moines.

He took a four-day swing through New Hampshire last month.

Merkley made headlines in June when he tried to visit a detention center for child immigrants in Texas, posting a Facebook Live video of the experience that went viral.