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ANALYSIS

The Senate is packed with Trump’s potential 2020 challengers

Sen. Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney and California state attorney general, reflects a Democratic base increasingly made up of women and ethnic minorities.

STARS AND STRIPES

By SAHIL KAPUR AND STEVEN DENNIS | Bloomberg News | Published: November 29, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Senate is emerging as a breeding ground for Democratic challengers to President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, with each contender looking for chances to stand out in the crowd.

Even though their party remains the Senate minority, nearly a dozen Democrats with presidential aspirations will face intense scrutiny in coming months as they maneuver on legislation and nominations — as well as their battles with Trump.

The top tier of Democratic hopefuls includes a quartet of senators preparing for a campaign with powerful fundraising networks, viral Twitter accounts, and strong ambitions: Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Their appeal could be blunted by nearly-a-senator Beto O’Rourke, whose unsuccessful bid to unseat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas enthralled the party faithful — and opened donors’ wallets.

Then there’s independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 2016 Democratic primary runner-up who’s considering whether to run again and who’ll be 79 on Inauguration Day in January 2021. He retains substantial support in early polls and a robust fundraising list.

A group of lesser-known Democrats haven’t ruled out a candidacy: Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — the only senator to endorse Sanders two years ago.

And finally, a current or former Republican senator may decide to challenge Trump, although the president commands such overwhelming support among party voters that he would be hard to stop in a GOP primary.

Senators considering a run or potentially in the mix

Name: Kamala Harris, 54

Home State: California

Current Post: Senator

The case for Harris: Of half-Jamaican and half-Indian ancestry, she doesn’t shy away from “identity politics” — in fact, she embraces it. She told a gathering of progressives in August that the term has been “weaponized” by those who want to “marginalize issues that impact all of us.” The former San Francisco district attorney and California state attorney general reflects a Democratic base increasingly made up of women and ethnic minorities. Black voters have been pivotal in picking the party’s last two presidential nominees in the open contests of 2008 and 2016.

Liabilities: Harris has less of an economic record. She has offered a bill to give families making less than $100,000 a tax credit to keep up with cost-of-living increases. Her path to victory in a general election would probably be to rouse liberal passions and boost turnout, much as Barack Obama did in 2008.

Name: Cory Booker, 49

Home State: New Jersey

Current Post: Senator

The case for Booker: He has made clear he’s considering a 2020 run. A former mayor of Newark, his issues have been income inequality and mass incarceration. He introduced a bill to tackle wealth disparities by creating “opportunity accounts” for all American children, with funding based on family income. He backs a criminal justice overhaul plan endorsed by Trump that would soften mandatory minimum sentencing and restrict solitary confinement for juveniles.

Like Harris, Booker was campaigning with Mississippi Democrat Mike Espy for his runoff election against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on Tuesday. The Deep South may seem like a strange place for Democratic presidential aspirants to plant their flag, but it’s not. It’s a delegate-rich environment for party primary voters, particularly blacks. Black voters’ backing of Obama in 2008 powered him to victory over Hillary Clinton, and their support for Clinton in 2016 ensured Bernie Sanders’s defeat.

Liabilities: He has drawn criticisms from the left as being too close to Wall Street and for accepting corporate money from political action committees.

Name: Elizabeth Warren, 69

Home State: Massachusetts

Current Post: Senator, vice chair of Democratic conference

The case for Warren: If grassroots enthusiasm is any indication, Warren has strong potential to be the nominee of a party that has embraced her economic populist vision of cracking down on Wall Street, raising the minimum wage, and easing student loan debt. She has wowed the activist left with her passion for reversing the trends of rising inequality and a shrinking middle class — themes that could play well in Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Warren said she would “take a hard look” at a 2020 run after the midterm elections. “She’s by far the most electable Democrat and will be the best president,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Liabilities: Others in the Democratic Party will disagree on whether she is the best contender to defeat a president with a knack for exploiting divisions to his advantage. Warren is seen more as a fighter for the left than a bridge-builder and is already a favorite target of the president.

Name: Kirsten Gillibrand, 51

Home State: New York

Current Post: Senator

The case for Gillibrand: She has positioned herself as a leader of the #MeToo movement, pushing legislation to address sexual assault in Congress and the U.S. military during a decade in the Senate. She was the first Democrat to demand the resignation of Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota for allegations of past groping and misconduct, which prompted colleagues to join her and force him out. Gillibrand has said she’s thinking about challenging Trump to restore “moral decency,” after saying in a 2018 debate she’d serve a full six-year term if re-elected.

Liabilities: Gillibrand has had an ideological transformation. Earlier, as a House member from relatively conservative upstate New York, her pro-gun views earned her an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, and she opposed citizenship and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. Now, she has disowned those views and embraced causes popular on the left, such as Medicare for all and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that finds and deports undocumented residents.

Not a senator, but …

Name: Beto O’Rourke, 46

Home State: Texas

Current Post: Member of U.S. House; didn’t seek re-election and instead challenged Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat

The case for O’Rourke: He set fundraising records after energizing people during his campaign, and he would have the advantage of not having to be in Washington for Senate votes. Primary voters may have to decide what they find more impressive: a candidate who easily wins Senate races in Massachusetts or California, or one who came within 2.6 points of defeating a GOP incumbent in Texas while running on an unabashedly progressive platform and an optimistic message.

Liabilities: If he were to run and win, it would be the first time since Abraham Lincoln that a defeated Senate candidate became president two years later.

An independent

Name: Bernie Sanders, 77

Home State: Vermont

Current Post: Senator, chairman of Democratic outreach, ranking member of Budget Committee

The case for Sanders: The 2016 runner-up to Clinton in the Democratic primaries has said he’s seriously considering running again, and he has proven his ability to excite voters, win delegates, and raise money. A Sanders candidacy could make it harder for others on the left to get attention. If he doesn’t run, his influence among the grassroots left and young voters could make him a coveted endorsement among the contenders.

Liabilities: Sanders is 14 months older than former Vice President Joe Biden, who turned 76 on Nov. 20 and is also considering a run. Either would be the oldest person ever elected president. Sanders also would have to deal with lingering bitterness among Clinton backers who believe his relentless attacks tarnished her image and contributed to her loss to Trump.

More Democrats

Name: Sherrod Brown, 66

Home State: Ohio

Current Post: Senator, ranking member on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee

The case for Brown: He holds a unique spot in the potential Democratic field — a solid progressive who just won a third term fairly comfortably in a crucial Midwest battleground state. He’s reconsidering his repeated statement that he had no plans to run for president, saying many people are urging him to run.

“Connie and I are pretty overwhelmed by how many people we’ve heard from that I should think about doing this,” Brown said in an interview, referring to his wife. His ties to unions and tough message on trade could counter Trump’s appeal among the working class in states that made him president in 2016 — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Liabilities: Brown’s love-it-or-hate-it gravelly voice and somewhat rumpled appearance — his hair is unruly, and he brags that his suits are made in Cleveland — add a bit of intrigue.

Name: Amy Klobuchar, 58

Home State: Minnesota

Current Post: Senator, chair of Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee

The case for Klobuchar: The former prosecutor just won a third term in a 24-point blowout, giving her bragging rights in the Upper Midwest state. Her clash with Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing earned praise from liberals.

Liabilities: She may not have the profile to appeal to a Democratic base that’s moving to the left.

Name: Chris Murphy, 45

Home State: Connecticut

Current Post: Senator

The case for Murphy: He is best known for his push to pass gun safety measures after the 2012 killings in Newtown, Conn., and subsequent massacres, and for a feisty Twitter feed. He worked with GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to enact a provision bolstering the background check system for gun purchasers, and he speaks out on international issues such as the war in Yemen from his perch on the Foreign Relations Committee. Murphy is one of the youngest senators.

Name: Jeff Merkley, 62

Home State: Oregon

Current Post: Senator

The case for Merkley: He’s been visiting early primary states. He helped spotlight the detention of migrant children at the border with Mexico earlier this year and held the floor for 15 hours in 2017 to oppose Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Three Republicans

Name: Mitt Romney, 71

Home State: Utah

Current Post: Senator-elect

The case for Romney: The 2012 GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor has given no hint he might run against Trump, but he would bring instant credibility to a Republican primary.

Liabilities: Clearly no fan of the president’s style, even Romney would face the same problem as any other Republican challenger: Party members back the president in overwhelming numbers.

Name: Jeff Flake, 55

Home State: Arizona

Current Post: Senator, retiring in January

The case for Flake: A fierce critic of Trump, he hasn’t ruled out a primary challenge to the president.

Liabilities: Something dramatic would have to happen for him to provide more than token opposition to Trump in GOP primaries.

Name: Bob Corker, 66

Home State: Tennessee

Current Post: Senator, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, retiring in January

The case for Corker: He started out with a decent relationship with the president — making the shortlist for vice president and secretary of state — but he soured on Trump and called the White House an “ adult day care center.”

Liabilities: Same as Flake.

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In addition to Sen. Kamala Harris, top Democratic senators mentioned as challengers to President Donald Trump in 2020 include, left to right, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
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