The battle for 2020: Possible Democratic presidential candidates
Kamala Harris’s top aides are privately meeting with local Democratic leaders from Alabama to Virginia. Bernie Sanders’s team is lining up interviews with potential senior staffers in California and Texas. And Cory Booker is cultivating relationships with officials across the South.
While early voting states get a lot of attention, many of the most formidable candidates in the 2020 presidential field are preparing for what comes after that — Super Tuesday, when voters in at least 12 other states are set to cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Super Tuesday 2020 falls on March 3, but early voting will start as early as Feb. 3 in California — the same day as the Iowa Caucuses.
They have good reason to get ready now: Nearly 40 percent of all pledged delegates will be up for grabs, more than any other single day on the primary calendar.
In a crowded field, that puts extra pressure on the campaigns to accelerate their efforts in these states — and to raise enough resources to keep them staffed up deeper into the cycle.
“With the big load-up of the delegates on Super Tuesday, and with the early start of the early voting in a lot of these states, the thought that you’re going to wait and see what happens in the week beforehand, as has been in the past, that’s probably not a good equation anymore,” said Tom Hendrickson, a veteran North Carolina Democrat. “It’s going to put a premium on who can get out and actually fund a real effort in the Super Tuesday states.”
In interviews, Democrats in these Super Tuesday states — a list that includes California, Texas, and a bevy of southern states — named Harris and Sanders as the candidates whose campaigns are doing the most outreach at this early stage, though that designation varied from state to state. Booker and Elizabeth Warren are also on the radar after recent visits.
The Sanders campaign in particular is publicly boasting of its ability to compete in every Super Tuesday state, boosted by strong fundraising and a ready-made organization of volunteers. Sanders advisers say that unlike in 2016, when their upstart campaign wasn’t able to adequately prepare for expensive multi-state primary days, they’re now readying to compete everywhere.
“It’s a tremendous lift, unless from day one you are laying out plans to compete everywhere simultaneously,” said Jeff Weaver, senior adviser to the Sanders campaign.
Weaver said the campaign has already moved to identify potential senior leadership in every Super Tuesday state, before it begins building out an on-the-ground organization in each. And he added the campaign also expects to pay for ads in each state.
Meanwhile, Harris already has a state director in her home state of California, and when she announces travel plans, her campaign often notes the number of delegates at stake in that particular state. “Texas will award more than 200 delegates in the 2020 primary,” read a press release announcing a swing through Beto O’Rourke’s home turf last month. For his part, O’Rourke’s team has posted a job listing expressing interest in candidates with ties to Super Tuesday states, among others, and he is expected in North Carolina next week.
Harris’s sister and campaign chair, Maya, and senior staffers Ace Smith and Dave Huynh — known to some as “delegate Dave” for his role in guiding Hillary Clinton’s 2016 delegate strategy — have met with party leaders and activists in North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, according to a source familiar with their efforts. There are plans for meetings in Virginia and Tennessee this month, and the campaign did the same in Mississippi and Louisiana, which are expected to vote soon after Super Tuesday.
Smith, a veteran Democratic strategist, is a known quantity in North Carolina from his days running Clinton’s 2008 operation there, and Harris already has some support lined up in the state. For example, former state Rep. Linda Coleman, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last cycle, is sending fundraising solicitations on Harris’s behalf.
“With as many delegates that are at stake, any candidate ignores organizing in North Carolina at their peril,” said Bruce Thompson, a prominent Raleigh Democrat who is backing Harris. “One of the refreshing things about her campaign was that was already the plan from day one. I just feel like they got the jump on a number of candidates.”
She is not the only candidate eying North Carolina. Booker’s father was from Hendersonville, N.C., and the New Jersey senator still has family ties to the state, noted someone familiar with the Booker campaign’s Super Tuesday efforts who expects him to campaign in North Carolina.
A spokeswoman for Booker’s campaign did not comment on this story, but Booker has been in touch with a number of activists connected to important Super Tuesday states, and his campaign said in a conference call with reporters Thursday that in coming weeks he will be in Georgia, California and Texas, in addition to Wisconsin and Florida, which are expected to vote later. He is one of several candidates, along with hopefuls including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to meet with Alan Clendenin, the Democratic National Committee’s southern caucus chair.
Booker also met with Randy Kelley, who among other titles serves as the vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Conference, an influential African-American political organization in the state. He has visited Alabama multiple times in the last several years and is also slated to be in Atlanta next week.
About a half-dozen candidates have also visited Georgia this year, which hasn’t officially set its primary date but is expected to vote on Super Tuesday. Harris secured the support of state Rep. Erick Allen, the only state lawmaker who’s endorsed a candidate so far. And Harris hired Reggie Abraham, a former staffer for 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, for her South Carolina team.
For her team, Warren hired Richard McDaniel, who was Clinton’s 2016 Georgia political director, as her national field director.
State Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, said that every candidate who has come through has given her their cell phone number, encouraging her to call and text at any time.
“I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more of the candidates,” Williams said. “I’m looking forward to them actually setting up an infrastructure and turning out Georgia voters.”
Less than a year out, many operatives and activists affiliated with Super Tuesday states stressed that it’s early, and many haven’t heard from any of the campaigns.
Meanwhile, as the poll-topping Joe Biden continues to mull a 2020 run, he lags behind his opponents in organizing and resources in the Super Tuesday states. His spokesman declined to comment.
Still, he maintains a considerable bench of relationships he could tap from Alabama to North Carolina, and some of his senior advisers and allies have worked to keep those contacts alive in recent weeks. Those longtime acquaintances won’t all necessarily support Biden, but plenty of people are waiting to see what he does before making any decisions about their 2020 loyalties.
“A lot of times in the South, we’re mostly very connected to folks that we know or feel like we know, and he makes you feel like you already know him,” said Anthony Daniels, an Alabama Democrat and the state’s first black House minority leader, who stressed that shouldn’t be viewed as an endorsement.
“I know that there are a lot of places that they could go that may be more a priority on their minds,” Daniels continued, speaking of the entire field. “However, you have to get out of the primary before you can go to the general. And so I would urge them to surely not overlook the South, or Alabama, in general.”
Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.