Two rising stars in California are about to collide: Sen. Kamala Harris of San Francisco and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
As potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2020, the pair might soon be asking the activists and donors who have known them their entire political careers to finally choose sides.
It’s a thorny dilemma for California Democrats, but one that could be commonplace over the next two years. At least eight states have multiple Democrats considering national bids, an unprecedented development that threatens to fracture the party in some of the bluest states in the nation.
“Whether [these candidates] have relationships or don’t have relationships, this is going to be awkward for a year or so,” said Jay Jacobs, a former chairman of New York’s Democratic Party who is now a top party fundraiser after running the state committee when both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — potential 2020 candidates — assumed their current roles.
The question, he said, “is whether it’s going to be mean and nasty on top of it — that’s a slippery slope, and it goes pretty quick.”
The coming collisions reflect the free-for-all nature of the upcoming presidential primary, a contest where all the usual rules of political seniority have been thrown out the window as the party fights over its future. They’re also a reminder of the concentration of Democratic power in the few liberal bastions that serve as hubs of the anti-Trump resistance.
A wide range of activists, donors, operatives, and lawmakers say that after years of cordial relationships or implicit non-aggression pacts, the coming months are poised to play host to increasingly sharp-elbowed posturing and headline-grabbing between neighbors.
“Most activists, they either already have a favorite because they came up politically with someone, or you’re thinking, ‘Well, let’s wait and see what they do in 2018,’” said veteran California-based Democratic strategist and activist Christine Pelosi.
Democrats have never actually had to contend with more than one serious presidential candidate from the same state in the modern era, though the prospect has surfaced at times: before the 2016 field shaped up, New Yorkers were briefly worried that Cuomo would run against Hillary Clinton. In most cases featuring that kind of potential clash, one politician is quick to step aside for the other, as Cuomo did.
For Republicans, it’s a familiar source of agita. Just in 2016, two Texans — Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry — ran and two Wisconsinites were part of the conversation before Rep. Paul Ryan opted against a run, leaving Gov. Scott Walker to run unobstructed. Two New Yorkers — Donald Trump and former Gov. George Pataki — competed as well. And no clash was more prominent than the one between fellow Floridians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
But never before has the home-state dynamic played out in so many states at once.
Many of the pre-2020 hot spots are progressive states with long histories of producing national-level Democrats.
In California, Harris and Garcetti have been rising on parallel tracks since before they showed up in Iowa at the same time to campaign for Barack Obama in 2008 as a 43-year-old San Francisco district attorney and a 36-year-old Los Angeles city council president.
But they are just the tip of the iceberg here. Rep. Eric Swalwell has raised eyebrows by appearing in Iowa multiple times in 2017 and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, earned some buzz by appearing at a South Carolina Democratic Party event last month. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer has also kept the door open to a presidential bid.
They are joined by a handful of non-politicians who have been included in the presidential discussion, including entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey, who has a home in Montecito. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Bob Iger of Disney have also been mentioned as possible candidates.
In New York, aside from Cuomo and Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio inserted his name with a December trip to Iowa. Two neighboring senators — New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Connecticut’s Chris Murphy — are also in the mix, likely to pull from a similar donor pool, and media market, if they run.
In Massachusetts, Sen. Elizabeth Warren may run — as might former Gov. Deval Patrick and Rep. Seth Moulton. In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee is making national noise, while Starbucks executive Howard Schultz is considered a possible outside contender. In Maryland, two long-shots could square off: Rep. John Delaney is already running, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley may run for a second time.
Traditional battleground states have also produced prospects: Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the most likely Virginian to jump in, but both Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner remain on some Democratic long lists. In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan has been raising his early-voting state profile while progressive leaders want to see Sen. Sherrod Brown run if he wins re-election. Even in conservative Texas, Democrats may have to choose between former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and investor Mark Cuban.
The most pressing concern for home-state rivals is the competition for money. In many cases, the state’s largest donors are likely to have split allegiances between the potential contenders, potentially leading to a bloody fight for resources. Even as many Democrats try to rely more on small-dollar grassroots fundraising than major backers in 2020, the support from a single billionaire can sometimes be enough to sustain a bid past the early rounds of the primary contest.
“It’s really helpful to have a solid base of support, both for political reasons, but also equally important, [for] fundraising. And when you have two people run from the same state, not only does that potentially split your base, but it also ices a lot of would-be strong supporters,” warned Alex Conant, a longtime top adviser to Rubio who also experienced the dynamic as an aide to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose 2012 presidential run came at the same time as then-Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s own bid.
“We saw that a lot: we lost donors to Jeb, but we also saw people just didn’t want to necessarily take a side, and stayed out of it altogether. That hurts just as much.”
Personal relationships between pols — whose political networks often overlap — are also at risk. Take Massachusetts, where Warren and Patrick could both be serious contenders.
“The honest answer, which is going to sound fake, is they get along really well,” said John Walsh, Patrick’s 2006 campaign manager who then served as the Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman when Warren ran for Senate in 2012.
Walsh is one of a handful of Boston-area operatives who have worked with both officials, and who might face pressure to publicly choose one — the same goes for Warren’s 2012 campaign strategist Doug Rubin, who played the same role for Patrick, and served as his chief of staff.
Nowhere is the potential tension closer to the surface than New York, where Cuomo and de Blasio’s disdain for one another’s politics, and political ambitions, is legendary.
There, donors and activists have already started considering which potential candidate to back, using meetings and informal strategy sessions, according to multiple Democrats involved in those processes.
Meanwhile, a handful of high-powered local operatives have ties to multiple New York candidates, adding another dimension to the maze-like landscape: Gillibrand’s 2006 campaign manager Bill Hyers is a top de Blasio advisor, for example, and her pollster Jef Pollock also does work for Cuomo.
The principals themselves must navigate the minefield of egos and resumes. While Gillibrand and Booker are friends, and Booker and Murphy are close, Cuomo’s relationship with Gillibrand is different. It began when he gave her her first job in politics — working for him at the Housing Department during the Bill Clinton administration. That’s the same place he first worked with de Blasio. And while de Blasio and Gillibrand only interact on occasion, he has questioned her progressive credentials to fellow Democrats in private conversations.
Still, if all the potential candidates keep moving toward a run, it’s the explosive governor-mayor relationship that’s most likely to take center-stage.
Cuomo sounded like he needed to restrain himself when asked recently about his thoughts on de Blasio’s Des Moines jaunt.
“The mind reels with options,” he said sarcastically, stressing the verb.
“But,” he added, bursting into laughter, “I have no comment.”
Politico · by Gabriel Debenedetti · January 29, 2018