The midterm elections have shaken up the early race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Enthusiasm for a White House bid by Rep. Beto O’Rourke is soaring after he came within 3 percentage points of Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE in the Texas Senate race.
O’Rourke, seen as more of a dark-horse candidate in 2020 just a few weeks ago, is suddenly being embraced by former aides to President Obama, who are comparing him to their former boss. And he’s not ruling out a White House run after dismissing it as a Senate candidate.
The Texan isn’t not the only potential candidate with new momentum after the midterms, either.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests Some realistic solutions for income inequality MORE, fresh off a decisive reelection victory in Ohio, is openly considering a run for the White House.
Democrats are giving him a fresh look, too, given his win in a perpetual swing state where President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE handily defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in 2016.
Democrats focused on winning back working-class voters are wondering if Brown’s brand of populism and socially liberal politics would make him a credible national candidate.
“Beto’s campaign has certainly catapulted him into the conversation,” said Adam Hodge, a Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee official. Likewise, he added, “Brown is getting a first look. Like Beto, he ran an authentic campaign that spoke directly to voters and did it in a battleground states that Democrats shouldn’t give up.”
The new momentum for O’Rourke and Brown will create fresh challenges for other would-be contenders who have long been seen as likely 2020 Democratic candidates.
The field of challengers to Trump is expected to be large, and Democrats will be looking for lanes to distinguish themselves in the crowded contest.
That includes former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), who have long been seen as top contenders in part because of their name recognition.
“The race has kind of flipped on its head in a really short time,” said one Democratic donor. “All of a sudden, it looks like the front-runners aren’t really the front-runners anymore.”
Democrats have long seen Biden as a strong general election candidate but have questioned his ability to win a primary against more liberal Democrats.
He would face real competition from Brown, who is to Biden’s left on trade, but also from Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick Casey21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests Overnight Health Care: Trump says US ‘terminating’ relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE (D-Pa.), who like the senator from Ohio won reelection convincingly in a state won by Trump in 2016.
Biden, who hails from Scranton, Pa., has long been considered a candidate who could appeal to blue-collar white voters. But that is also the demographic that Brown or Casey could shoot for.
The former vice president might also have to compete with O’Rourke for the Obama crowd, judging from the effusive remarks about the Texan made by the ex-president’s former aides.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also seriously considering a White House bid as a Democrat, fresh off an election cycle in which he poured cash into races to help Democrats win back the House.
Bloomberg, who would run as a centrist, could be a threat to Biden in that lane of a primary.
O’Rourke and Brown could also suck up the oxygen that other candidates need, including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (N.Y.).
Strategists say candidates will have to figure out how quickly to launch campaigns to try to get attention from donors and the public.
They say established candidates might want to jump in quickly to blunt the momentum of a Brown or O’Rourke, for fear they could rev up like Obama’s campaign in 2008.
“[The Clinton campaign] gave him an opening and he ran through it,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “If I’m more of an established kind of candidate, if I’m a Biden or a Warren, you can’t wait. You’ve got to be out there really fast with a strong message.
“The advantage someone like Beto has is that he has nothing to lose,” Kofinis added. “That is a dangerous candidate in a multi-candidate field. Same as Obama. Look at the kind of campaign he ran. He had nothing to lose.”
There are signs that some of the politicians long seen as 2020 candidates are getting into the deeper water.
Warren this week rolled out a foreign policy vision focused on free trade agreements. Speaking at American University, she said foreign policy should “benefit all Americans, not just wealthy elites.”
Other candidates are on the move to early primary states. Booker is heading back to New Hampshire to headline a “post-election victory celebration,” the state party announced on Friday.
Harris crisscrossed Iowa last month and proposed a tax credit of up to $500 a month for families earning less than $100,000.
Every day, the potential field grows seemingly larger.
Last week, former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE, the Democratic nominee in 2004, said he was mulling a run in 2020.
“Everyone is deciding they have an opening based on their own facts,” said Kofinis.
The elbows may begin to fly.
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) on Thursday said it would be unusual for the party to nominate O’Rourke in 2020 since you usually don’t nominate losers — a pointed reference to the loss to Cruz.