Chuck Schumer has a problem: The 2020 presidential election. Not only is 13 percent of his caucus on the campaign trail — so many Democrats are running for commander in chief that Schumer’s dreams of becoming Senate majority leader are in jeopardy.
Look at Colorado. Its Republican senator, Cory Gardner, is endangered thanks to the Rocky Mountain State’s increasingly blue hue. Schumer was hoping that former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper would challenge Gardner. But Hickenlooper announced today that he’s running for president. Not only does the governor’s move deprive Schumer of a top recruit, it also boxes out Colorado’s Democratic senator Michael Bennett, who was contemplating a presidential campaign of his own. Is the 2020 Democratic field large enough to hold two Colorado progressives? It already has a socialist and a Spartacus, so why not?
Then there’s Montana, where Republican senator Steve Daines is up in 2020. Schumer wants another governor, Steve Bullock, to run for Daines’s seat. But Bullock, like Hickenlooper, is also eyeing the presidency. Bullock could tout his record as a Democrat able to win in a state that turns dark red in presidential years. That’s a story the other candidates won’t be able to tell. If he enters the race, another top Senate challenger will be lost.
The same thing happened in Texas. Schumer was desperate for Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, who lost narrowly to Ted Cruz last year, to challenge John Cornyn. But last week O’Rourke took a pass. He’s expected to run for president instead. Now Schumer will have to turn to either Representative Joaquin Castro or failed House candidate MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s chances improve.
Schumer needs four pickups to win control if Trump is reelected, but only three if there’s a Democratic president. The hitch in his plan is Doug Jones, the Democrat elected in Alabama in 2017 thanks to Judge Roy Moore. If Republicans win back the Alabama Senate seat, Schumer has his work cut out for him.
The Alabama debacle illustrated the importance of candidates. A bad candidate matters more than the partisan lean of a state — even a lean as lopsided as Alabama’s. Republicans fielded some incredibly strong candidates when they captured the Senate in 2014, including Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, Shelley Moore Capito, and Gardner. Democrats will have to do the same next year. They’ve come up short.
Nor is it only in the Senate where candidate decisions have unintended consequences. Joe Biden’s will-he-or-won’t-he act is blocking two potential candidates from entering the presidential race. Both Michael Bloomberg and Terry McAuliffe would bring business-friendly progressivism and a ton of money to the Democratic primary. But they are reluctant to join the fray as long as there is a chance Biden might announce. The upshot is a vacuum in the Democratic field where more centrist candidates ought to be. That has had the effect of branding the Democratic party with its left-progressive and socialist camps. Schumer must be frustrated. Mitch McConnell must be happy. And Donald Trump is, too.