Californians suffering from political campaign fatigue beware: Tuesday night may have been the end of the 2018 midterm election, but it also marked the beginning of the 2020 presidential race.
California’s move to a March 3 primary date, from June, means the state will once again be in the middle of a national political battle, this time to help determine the Democratic nominee to take on President Donald Trump.
“California is going to have a spotlight shining on it like never before,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation. “We really want to use that opportunity to get the candidates out here as much as possible and have them address important issues not only to workers in California but workers everywhere.”
With a huge field of potential Democratic candidates, the expense of running in California, and just about a year until they will have to file their intention to run in the state, aspiring Trump challengers have little time to waste in launching their campaigns here.
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Indeed, many candidates have already been making moves. Here’s a look at five leading Democrats contemplating a presidential run in 2020, and how they stack up in California.
California’s junior senator is widely expected to declare a presidential run in the coming weeks – she’s said she will make a decision on 2020 after the 2018 election is over. Harris would start as an early favorite in the Democratic primary in California, thanks to her experience winning three statewide races, said Bob Shrum, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. She won campaigns for the state’s attorney general in 2010 and 2014 before defeating a fellow Democrat in the race to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016.
As a junior member of the minority party, Harris hasn’t had much chance to craft national policy in polarized Washington. But the former prosecutor has garnered national attention for her sharp questioning of Trump administration officials, most recently Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She’s been a leading voice in the Senate for immigrant rights, particularly on behalf of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, who came the United States as children and were granted legal status to remain here under President Barack Obama.
Harris has been making all the moves expected of a presidential contender. She has built an extensive email list and has helped raise millions for fellow Democrats via that list and through other organizations, like MoveOn.org. In the final days before the election, she barnstormed through Southern California with gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom and Democrats running for some of the state’s most hotly contested congressional seats.
Harris, however, has to perform well in some of the first states on the primary election calendar just to get to California. If a Californian survives the first four primaries, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, “it will be a big deal having a California candidate seen as a top competitor” in the home state primary, said Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic consultant in California.
Another Californian, Garcetti has been mayor of Los Angeles since 2014. Like Harris, he’s been exhibiting all the tell-tale signs of a presidential-candidate-in-waiting, such as trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and fundraising for fellow Democrats. That includes channeling $100,000 apiece to the state Democratic parties in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Garcetti has used his platform as a big city mayor to paint himself as an innovative, solutions-oriented policymaker, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change and infrastructure. But he could also be dogged by some of the issues that bedevil Los Angeles and California, as a whole: growing wealth inequality, a rising cost of living and homelessness.
Garcetti’s Hispanic heritage will help woo Latinos, a voting bloc that Democrats desperately need, but struggle to mobilize on a regular basis. That could be particularly critical in California, Nevada and Texas, all early primary states. Even if he doesn’t win any of those states, he could pick up a chunk of delegates, which are awarded proportionally.
One of Garcetti’s main challenges will be keeping up with fundraising powerhouses like Harris and fellow senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He’ll also have to expand his name recognition, which is limited beyond his home base in Southern California. He’s never run statewide in California.
The Massachusetts senator and former Harvard law professor passed on a 2016 presidential run. But she’s sending clear signals she’s planning a 2020 bid, most recently publicizing DNA test results to back up claims of Native American heritage. It’s a direct rejoinder to President Trump, who derisively refers to Warren as “Pocahantas” on Twitter.
The new details aren’t likely to silence the president, but it will likely offer some cover to Warren, who can point to findings she had Native American ancestry “6 to 10 generations ago.”
Warren’s willingness to confront Trump, often acerbically, and her record of championing consumers over big financial interests have made her a rock star among the Democratic party’s liberal base. Her vocal advocacy of Medicare for All and other populist issues play well among the party’s primary voters in California. She also appears regularly at political rallies and fundraising events in in the state, Democratic strategists say, including a “tele-townhall” with the California Democratic Party just days before the election. It was just one part of a massive campaign operation Warren mounted to help Democrats in the midterms.
The aforementioned Sanders hails from a state about as far from California as one can get in the continental United States. But the independent senator from Vermont has a strong standing out West thanks to his dark horse bid for president in 2016. Sanders ultimately lost the Democratic presidential primary in California to Hillary Clinton 53 to 46 percent. But he won nearly 2.4 million votes, and developed a devoted following, particularly in more rural parts of Northern California and along the coast.
Thanks to that previous presidential campaign, Sanders also has national name ID — he has ranked among the top two or three candidates in early polls of the Democratic field. And he has the small-dollar fundraising base to mount a competitive campaign in California, where the media markets are some of the priciest in the country.
Shrum, however, cautions that in a fragmented Democratic primary, some of Sanders’ 2016 support could go elsewhere, particularly to Warren, a fellow liberal firebrand.
The former vice president leads in national polls, but it’s unclear if he’s really prepared to make another run for the White House (he previously ran in 1988 and 2008). Biden will be 76 later this month, and while that’s a year younger than Sanders, it would still make him the oldest president in office, by a mile.
The longtime Delaware senator acknowledged in an October television interview that his age would be an issue if he were to launch a presidential campaign. But he certainly hasn’t ruled it out. In recent weeks, he stoked speculation of a possible run with a midterm campaign swing across the country.
Strategists say Biden has the mix of high name recognition and longtime relationships with the Democratic donor community to defeat even California’s native daughters and sons in the state’s primary. His biggest challenge would be overcoming the growing push amongst younger Democrats for a new generation of leaders, which is particularly salient in the California given the longevity of its leading Democrats.