Democrats' next leaders jockey for 2020, 2024
PHILADELPHIA — Bernie Sanders and Michelle
Obama commanded the headlines at the Democratic National Convention Monday night, but Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren got prime speaking spots.
Bill Clinton was the dominant presence at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota managed to get on stage just before him.
Welcome, perhaps, to the presidential race of 2020 or 2024.
Whether Hillary Clinton wins or loses in November, Democrats with White House ambitions are wise to use their party's convention to boost their national profile, much as a little-known state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama did in 2004.
Many of those who might run for president after the Clinton era ends were at the convention — often speaking when no one is watching, leading state delegations or hopscotching between breakfasts and events. It's a rite of passage, just as it was for Obama and Bill Clinton.
“Speaking at the convention is like checking off a box on the list of things you should do if you want to move up,” says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report, which tracks state and national races. Until Obama electrified the Boston convention that nominated John Kerry, she recalls, "no one had any idea who this guy was."
But before lightning strikes for the likes of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo or Senate candidate Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania, the first tier of potential presidential candidates must shake out during the next few years.
That list begins with vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, whose political résumé includes stints as a U.S. senator, Virginia governor, Richmond mayor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. At 58, with a moderate record on economic and foreign policy but a liberal one on social issues, Kaine is perfectly positioned to accept the party's mantle of leadership — particularly after he goes through the rigors of this fall's national campaign.
“That’s an experience that would automatically put him on the board,” says Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who publishes The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.
Behind Kaine, those most often mentioned as possible presidential candidates include:
► Sen. Booker of New Jersey, a young African-American firebrand with a huge following among Millennials on social media. At 47, the former Newark mayor can afford to wait — but history indicates his time to strike may be sooner rather than later.
► New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 58, is the son of former governor Mario Cuomo and has compiled a liberal record on social issues in the Empire State. His problem could be an ethics scandal that has resulted in the indictments of the state Senate and Assembly leaders and threatens his administration.
► Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was the darling of the party's left wing before Sanders. But Warren is 67 and would be in her 70s when the next race for the White House is run.
► California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 51, is the favorite to win a U.S. Senate seat in November. Also mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee, Harris checks more boxes than anyone else — African American, Asian American and female.
Several other women are in or near the top tier, including Klobuchar, 56, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 49, of New York, who took over Clinton's Senate seat after she was named secretary of State.
"We plan on electing a second, third and fourth woman president," says Rachel Thomas of Emily's List, which recruits and assists female Democratic candidates for office who support abortion rights.
After two historic nominees in a row in Obama and Clinton, the party could also look to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who was on Clinton's short list for running mate, or Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, each of whom would be the first Hispanic to lead a major party ticket.
Other finalists to be Clinton's running mate, which puts them on the map, included Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, One of her opponents for the nomination, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, could wage a comeback.
Another way of categorizing the next wave of potential Democratic candidates is by ideology. The progressive wing of the party now in ascension favors the likes of Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Others in that wing include California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, already running for governor in 2018, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, the nation's first openly gay U.S. senator.
The moderate wing of the party, more popular during Bill Clinton's years in the White House, include Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and former senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is seeking to get back into the Senate this fall.
Then there are potential outsiders such as Tom Steyer, a California environmentalist who invested more than $70 million to support Democrats in the 2012 elections. Trump's stampede through a strong Republican field this year shows it can be done.
“We may be in a period where the formal résumé is less important" than charisma and the ability to raise money, Rothenberg says — “and you have to pass the smell test.”