With today’s announcement by Montana governor Steve Bullock that he is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, we now have 23 nationally recognized candidates running. With the field wide open and a troubled incumbent, this is to an extent understandable.
However, (and I’m by no means the first to observe this,) if the Democrats want to make lasting changes to the direction Trump and McConnell have taken the country since 2016, they need not only the White House – they need a Senate majority. So, here’s my run-down of the current presidential candidates and where I think they should be running for Senate instead. (Candidates listed alphabetically, direct from the relevant Wikipedia article.)
Michael Bennet – Bennet is currently a Democratic senator from Colorado, and his term doesn’t expire until 2022. He isn’t hurting the Dems’ chances at the Senate by running.
Joe Biden – While Biden had a long and distinguished career in the Senate, he’s not likely to run again after serving as VP for two terms. And Delaware’s two senators are already Democrats. Joe can stay in.
Cory Booker – Booker’s Senate term is up in 2020. Somebody’s gonna have to fill that hole. My 10-second Google search didn’t turn up anybody announced yet to run to fill his spot, but New Jersey is a fairly safe state for Democrats, seeing as they keep re-electing even the highly corrupt Bob Menendez.
Steve Bullock – Bullock is touting his ability to have won statewide office in a majority Republican state as a qualification for his presidential campaign. But Montana has a Republican senator up for re-election in 2020, and if Bullock really has such skills, he should turn them toward defeating Steve Daines to turn the second Montana Senate seat blue.
Pete Buttigieg – Mayor Pete might be at some point a worthy Democratic Senate candidate from Indiana. However, Indiana doesn’t have a Senate seat up in 2020. Mayor Pete can keep running. He might make somebody a good Vice President.
Julián Castro – Castro would need to do a little bit of coordinating here with Beto O’Rourke. Both are from Texas, and Texas has a Senate seat up in 2020. O’Rourke almost knocked off Ted Cruz in 2018; Castro could surely put up a strong state-wide campaign if he took up the torch. One of these guys should be challenging John Cornyn next year.
John Delaney – Who is this guy again? Maryland already has two Democratic senators and neither are up for re-election in 2020. Delaney is welcome to keep tilting at windmills as long as his funding holds out.
Tulsi Gabbard – In pretty much the same spot as Delaney. She’s not going to challenge one of Hawaii’s existing Democratic senators, so why not run for President?
Kirsten Gillibrand – Gillibrand is already a Senator and just got re-elected in 2018. If she doesn’t take the White House, she’ll stay in the Capitol. No impact.
Mike Gravel – LOL.
Kamala Harris – Harris has two years left on her term in the Senate, so she’s safe either way.
John Hickenlooper – Here’s another guy who should reconsider. Cory Gardner (who I always seem to get confused with Cory Booker for some reason) is up for re-election in 2020. Hickenlooper has been popular as a governor in Colorado. If he could oust Gardner that’d turn another Senate seat blue. It’d be worth a shot.
Jay Inslee – Inslee is currently Governor of Washington, a state that already has two Democratic senators. No harm in him running.
Amy Klobuchar – Klobuchar just won re-election to the Senate in 2018 so she’s safe either way. Fortunately for her it’s almost done snowing in Minnesota for the season, so her campaigning will get a little bit easier.
Wayne Messam – If you’re saying “who is that again?”, a reminder that Messam is currently the mayor of Miramar, Florida. Which, to be fair I guess, is about the same size as South Bend, Indiana. Florida doesn’t have any Senate seats up in 2020, though.
Seth Moulton – I had to look this guy up to remember who he is. (He’s a member of the House from Massachusetts.) Ed Markey is up for re-election in Massachusetts but surely he’ll run again, so Moulton is left out in the cold.
Beto O’Rourke – As I wrote above, he’s gotta get w/ Julián Castro and figure out which one of them is gonna take out John Cornyn.
Tim Ryan – No Senate seats open in Ohio in 2020, so Ryan can be another nondescript white Midwestern guy running for President.
Bernie Sanders – Bernie just won re-election in 2018. His seat is safe until old age catches up with him.
Eric Swalwell – Again, who? Another non-descript Midwestern boy (he was born in Iowa, even if he’s currently a Californian) who doesn’t have a Senate seat to run for.
Elizabeth Warren – Just won re-election in Massachusetts in 2018.
Marianne Williamson – LOL. (From California. See Swalwell above.)
Andrew Yang – Also LOL. From New York. Not gonna challenge Schumer or Gillibrand even if they were up in 2020.
So, let’s review.
Which Democrats should run for Senate instead of President? Bullock in Montana. Castro or O’Rourke in Texas. Hickenlooper in Colorado. Then Stacey Abrams should challenge Perdue in Georgia.
Then we need a strong Democrat to run against Joni Ernst in Iowa, but the Iowa Democrats haven’t managed to field a strong candidate for anything in a while. (J. D. Scholten might have a better luck running state-wide against Ernst than he did running against Steve King for the House…)
And can North Carolina get enough voting rights back to unseat Thom Tillis? They get to undo some gerrymanders but that won’t affect a statewide race like the Senate.
In short: there are some opportunities for Democrats to make gains and possibly take an outright majority in the Senate in 2020. But they need to spend their energy running for those seats instead of having all their strong candidates running in a giant knock-out race for President. If 2020 is really about our Republic’s survival after four years of Trump and McConnell destroying all governing norms, Democrats need to treat it that way and make a cooperative concerted effort to win both the White House and the Senate.
At least a guy can dream, right?