After midterms, US Democrats chart their course for 2020

by Elodie CUZIN
Agence France Presse

WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Colorful campaign placards still dot front yards across America after this week’s midterm elections, but Democrats have already turned their attention to the next goal: winning the presidency in 2020.

“We’re going to keep organizing, mobilizing, and fighting,” said party chairman Tom Perez, minutes after Democrats claimed victory in their bid to win majority control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“And that’s how we’re going to take back the Senate and the White House in 2020.”

For Democrats mulling a challenge against President Donald Trump, sand is slipping through the political hourglass, with the first primary ballots just 15 months from now.

“Look for multiple Democrats to declare their presidential bids in the coming weeks to months,” said Democratic strategist Dena Grayson.

Now that they have reclaimed the House, flipped several governorships and enjoy a nine-point generic ballot lead over Republicans, she said, “Democrats have big momentum going into 2020.”

But with septuagenarians dominating her party’s leadership, the potential contenders list hardly heralds the Democratic renewal that voters are expecting.

Former vice president Joe Biden will be nearly 78 at the time of the November 2020 election, while Senator Bernie Sanders will be 79. Senator Elizabeth Warren will be a spry 71.

But new faces have emerged. Driven by startling campaign trail enthusiasm, Democrat Beto O’Rourke would have been an instant frontrunner had he managed to dethrone Senator Ted Cruz in ruby red Texas.

Despite his narrow defeat, not all hope is lost for the lanky and engaging 46-year-old former punk rocker.

“Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly strong showing against Ted Cruz potentially could launch a presidential bid,” Grayson said.

One major hiccup: Beto, as everyone calls him, could drop out of the national spotlight once he leaves Congress in January.

“The problem is, in our environment, his celebrity will diminish given that he won’t be in office,” said political science professor Lara Brown of George Washington University.

That’s not an insurmountable handicap, offered political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.

“There was another guy who lost a Senate race and was elected President two years later,” Sabato quipped. “A fellow named Abraham Lincoln.”

‘More impressive’ than Beto

Other charismatic Democrats are stepping forward.

California Senator Kamala Harris, 54, and 49-year-old Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, both African-American, are among the names consistently circulating in the 2020 hopper.

Their grilling of Trump’s conservative US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during tense Senate hearings lifted their profiles, but neither has broken out as the frontrunner.

Also potentially in the starting blocks: 51-year-old Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

But for many observers, Democrats seeking a White House savior should steer clear of the coasts, reviled by conservatives as lands of elite liberalism, and look instead to more centrist territory like the Midwest, a hearty mix of agricultural and industrial regions that proved decisive in Trump’s 2016 victory.

“Even more impressive” than O’Rourke, noted Grayson, was Senator Sherrod Brown’s resounding six-point re-election victory in Ohio, a closely-watched swing state that Trump won by eight points.

That 14-point swing could bode well for Brown should he launch a presidential campaign from the heartland.

Also emerging from the Midwest is Senator Amy Klobuchar, 58, who handily won re-election in Minnesota, a state which could prove pivotal in 2020 as Trump came close to snatching it in 2016.

Klobuchar may have less star power than Harris or Booker, but this miner’s granddaughter with a conciliatory but firm tone also made a name for herself at the Kavanaugh hearings.

Fleshing out the potential Democratic field is a gallery of current and former lawmakers and officials: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Barack Obama’s first attorney general Eric Holder.

And in the model of Trump himself, two billionaire businessmen: Ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and California’s Tom Steyer, each of whom spent millions helping Democratic candidates this year.

Rounding out the group is Michael Avenatti, the highly visible lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels who has already announced his interest.

Perhaps it is all a bit too much, too early.

“It will take a good six months for the country to digest this election and to start contemplating the next one,” Brown said.

© Agence France-Presse