Senate

Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are staying on the sidelines of the fierce fight to win the party’s presidential nomination.

As several of their colleagues compete to take on President Trump, Democratic senators are holding off on picking favorites in the crowded primary field that includes seven senators, 18 total candidates so far and several others weighing bids.

{mosads}Senators say White House hopefuls have reached out to them, but most are steering clear of an endorsement game that could lead to an awkward post-primary dynamic.

“You know, I will if my gut tells me I want to,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, told The Hill about endorsing during the primary. “I kind of do it by intuition.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a progressive senator once considered a dark horse candidate, jokingly asked if he could “endorse them all” and bypass picking just one in the wide-ranging field that includes some of his friends in the Senate.

“Can they all be president? Could I endorse them all?” Murphy recently told reporters, adding that he wants to “stay out of it for as long as possible.”

With a crowded primary field, candidates are vying for high-profile endorsements that could boost their name recognition in key states and open up access to coveted donor networks. But as campaigns try to seize the mantle of momentum from the pack of competitors, Senate Democrats are notably missing from the list of endorsements.

That includes several lawmakers who are popular with the party’s progressive base, such as Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose home state is hosting the party’s 2020 convention; Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only senator to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016; and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who floated his own 2020 run.

Of the 47 senators in the Democratic caucus, seven are running or have said they will run for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination: Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sanders.

Only four of the other 40 Democrats in the Senate have endorsed a fellow senator — all from their home states.

{mossecondads}Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first senator to endorse a colleague in February when he backed Booker. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) followed suit by backing Klobuchar, Warren and Sanders, respectively.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) didn’t rule out that he would eventually support someone, but added with a laugh, “Not now.”

“I have some people that are in the category that I would have confidence [in], that are stronger than others,” he told The Hill, while declining to name names.

The hands-off attitude starts at the top of the caucus, where no member of leadership has endorsed a candidate.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who recommended Gillibrand for her Senate seat, is staying neutral and has given no indication on when he’ll come off the fence.

In addition to Gillibrand, the primary also includes three members of his leadership team: Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren.

Schumer, in an interview last month with New York radio station WAMC, reiterated that his philosophy for the field of Democratic contenders is “let a thousand flowers bloom.”

“Let’s see who the strongest candidate is against Donald Trump, because we have to beat him. And I don’t know who it is but I do believe … the electorate will choose the candidate they think is the strongest to beat him,” Schumer said.

The slow pace of endorsements is a break from the 2016 race, when several senators began endorsing Clinton, the presumptive front-runner, years before the election.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as now-former Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Clare McCaskill (Mo.), each endorsed Clinton in 2013, according to FiveThirtyEight. An additional dozen senators, many of whom are still in office, had endorsed Clinton by the end of 2014.

The endorsement race was slower for the 2008 cycle, when Clinton battled with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). They were also running at the time against then-Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), but all three withdrew from the race in January 2008.

Schumer endorsed Clinton in December 2006, and then-Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) backed her in April 2007. By the end of 2007, Clinton had 10 Senate supporters.

Hanging over the 2020 Senate endorsement game is a potential White House bid by Biden — he is widely expected to get into the race and has the most Senate endorsements.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Christopher Coons (Del.), as well as Feinstein, have all indicated they would support Biden. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) has also publicly talked about how he’s encouraged Biden to run.

 Asked last month about backing someone in the primary, Jones said it may “depend on how things go.”

“I mean, everybody knows that Joe Biden and I have been friends for 40 years, and so I have talked about Joe a lot. And I’ve always wanted him to be president,” he said. “Outside of Joe, we’ll see how that goes.”

The fight for the party’s nomination could yield plenty of awkward moments.

Only hours after Feinstein told reporters in January that she would back Biden, she found herself walking next to Harris, with the eventual 2020 candidate accompanying her on the Senate floor as she was sworn in for her sixth term.

Murphy, when asked if he had talked with any presidential contenders, appeared to acknowledge the possibility that several could pass through the Senate basement as he answered questions about the primary.

“I’ve talked to a bunch of them,” he said, before adding with emphasis, “I see a lot of them.”

And the questions about the former vice president have become so common in the Capitol that Carper, when approached by a reporter on an unrelated topic, deadpanned: “Yes, Joe Biden, I’d be happy to support him.”

Tags 2020 Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Barbara Boxer Barbara Mikulski Ben Cardin Bernie Sanders Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Christopher Coons Cory Booker Democratic primary Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump doug jones Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Michael Bennet Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Senate Sherrod Brown Tammy Baldwin Tim Kaine Tina Smith Tom Carper
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