As hundreds—no, thousands—of Democratic hopefuls scramble to qualify for final spots in the first 2020 debate later this month, their fellow Democrats in the Senate are growing more and more frustrated that the party seems to be ceding control of the Senate before the cycle even really gets underway.
There are several long shot presidential candidates from states who have Senate elections in 2020, most notably former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who nearly pulled an upset win over Sen. Ted Cruz last November and helped countless down-ballot candidates win their races. Texas Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election in 2020, and O’Rourke is the only Democrat who’s proven himself to be viable in a statewide race in Texas in decades, so you’d think he’d be taking a second look at it now that he’s floundering in the polls.
Not so, apparently. A spokesman for O’Rourke told the Hill that while he’s “grateful for the opportunity he had to run an historic and transformational Senate campaign in 2018 that visited all 254 counties of the state while winning more votes than any Democrat in Texas history,” the former congressman is also “committed to bringing forward that same drive and ability to not just defeat Donald Trump in November of 2020 but to unite people together so we can overcome the greatest set of challenges this country has ever faced.”
Translation: I’m not gonna play my old shit.
In addition to O’Rourke, a pair of popular Democratic governors from Western states—former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock—have next to no shot of winning the primary, but also seemingly have no interest in running winnable campaigns for Senate.
It goes without saying that a Democratic president won’t be able to do shit without at least a Senate majority, and so Democrats who are currently in the chamber that no one apparently wants to join are starting to get vocal about their frustration.
“The clock is running out for people who have not demonstrated any ability to mount a serious presidential bid to help make a real difference in their country by helping to turn the Senate,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told the Hill. “It would be a shame if we elected a new president who faced the same enmity and obstruction in the Senate that Obama had to live through, all because a lot of candidates who had no shot wouldn’t run for winnable Senate seats.”
Another anonymous Senate Democrat told the site: “There’s frustration among people who care about the majority.”
The Democrats haven’t held the Senate since losing control of the chamber in 2014. Despite being badly outgunned in the 2018 midterms—they had to defend 25 seats, as opposed to the GOP’s eight—they were able to mitigate losses after pickups in Arizona and Nevada, despite losing Florida, Missouri, Indiana, and North Dakota.
The map looks much better for the Democrats this time around, but given that they have to defend Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama and only two senators from states won by Hillary Clinton are up for re-election in 2020—Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Maine’s Susan Collins—it’s going to be a tall order either way. It’s an even taller order if the Democrats can’t recruit candidates that are recognizable statewide.
Putting the cart before the horse, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin cautioned against running for Senate as a consolation prize. “We have a number of presidential aspirants who would make excellent senatorial candidates,” Durbin told the Hill, “but they first have to be committed to the race. I hope they’ll reach the point where it makes sense to them.” He added: “The system has a way of narrowing the field.”
For the sake of stopping Mitch McConnell’s multi-year project to put every dues-paying member of the Federalist Society on the U.S. Court of Appeals, let’s hope so.