The biggest 2020 campaign stage isn’t Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s the United States Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer just endured a brutal midterm election, but now he’s in for an equally challenging task: managing the half-dozen or more presidential hopefuls in his caucus jockeying for position. That group of liberal White House aspirants is on track to be the caucus’ most closely watched, and potentially influential, bloc.
From household names like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to lesser-known progressives such as Jeff Merkley, Democratic senators eyeing the White House will spend the next two years doing everything they can to market themselves as the party’s best hope for salvation from Donald Trump.
Prominent liberals this year have mostly refrained from theatrics on the Senate floor against legislative compromises or Trump nominees — grandstanding that might have won kudos from the base but put red-state Democrats on the spot. But with the election over, some senators already worry that the chamber will get bogged down as it becomes a proving ground for the 2020 Democratic primary.
“It has the potential to do that. There could be 13 or 14 senators running,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), an estimate on the high end but not outside the realm of possibility. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and that” — the jockeying among senators trying to score points — “distracts” from it, he said.
Senators and aides in both parties expect the posturing to accelerate rapidly as the 2020 race shapes up. The Democratic field could swell to nine or more senators, depending on how the next few months go. Warren, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Merkley, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker are all seriously weighing runs. Sherrod Brown and Chris Murphy could receive some buzz, though both have thus far shied away from it. And the significance of Amy Klobuchar’s frequent visits to Iowa isn’t lost on anyone.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), addressing reporters on Wednesday after his candidates toppled multiple red-state Democratic incumbents, indicated his own keen interest in the fireworks across the aisle, calling it “fun to watch” and predicting lots of missed votes for Schumer’s senators. …
As prominent a stage as the Senate is for White House hopefuls, it by no means guarantees success. For Barack Obama, it worked out great. For the crop of Republicans who ran in 2016 — including Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul — not so much.
The three of them generated made-for-TV moments in the run-up to their bids. Paul forced an expiration of the PATRIOT Act, Rubio tried to sink the nuclear deal with Iran, and Cruz repeatedly went after McConnell, even calling him a liar. It was a management nightmare for McConnell.
But after maneuvering for years to generate buzz from inside the Senate, all three were trampled by Trump in the 2016 primaries.
Republicans wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen to the Senate Democratic presidential caucus.
Whatever ends up happening, it’ll certainly be fun watching the Democrats tear themselves apart to get the chance to take on Trump.