As an increasingly geriatric Democratic leadership licks its 2016 wounds and mulls the future, who would have thought its first prominent figure to speculate about a 2020 presidential bid would be one of its most senior figures, outgoing Vice President Joe Biden?
Biden, who would be nearing 78 by the next election, did so very publicly, telling reporters he was leaving open the possibility of a third presidential run in 2020. He may or may not be serious. But he’s not the only surprising prospect making moves that could point to a 2020 bid.
In Iowa, likely to remain the first caucus state, the liberal group Progress Iowa (had) its annual Christmas Party, and its featured speaker (was) Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.
Jason who? He’s the Afghanistan War veteran who ran a much admired though ultimately losing Senate race last month, losing to incumbent Republican Sen. Roy Blunt by just 3 percent while getting 228,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.
Kander is just 35. He’s Jewish. And hardly anyone outside Missouri has heard of him. But given the fact Democrats showed almost as much disdain in 2016 for their traditional establishment as did Republicans, their 2020 race might be ripe for a political outsider.
Besides, Missouri’s increasingly red hue may force ambitious Democrats like Kander to look elsewhere. The state’s top Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill, faces a tough 2018 re-election race.
And though Kander’s resume includes just eight years as a state representative and Missouri’s secretary of state, Americans have shown a preference of late for the less experienced candidate. Besides, Missouri is just south of Iowa, geographical contiguity that helped former Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt win the latter’s caucuses in a 1988 bid that later fizzled.
The relatively inexperienced Kander and the very experienced Biden, a six-term senator before his 2008 election as vice president, represent two potential 2020 extremes. The likelihood is neither will ultimately be the nominee.
And they are not the only Democrats jolted by Hillary Clinton’s unexpected defeat into considering a White House bid sooner than expected.
The possible cast includes two women senators, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, 56, and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, 50; two prominent African-Americans, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, 47, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, 60; and New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 59, who may face a difficult 2018 primary challenge.
Clinton had barely conceded when The New York Post reported Gillibrand was reaching out to the 2016 nominee’s financial supporters. In recent years, the Dartmouth grad has often visited New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state, as has Klobuchar.
And at the last two Democratic conventions, the Minnesota senator got positive receptions from speeches to delegates of her neighboring state of Iowa.
Given Bernie Sanders’ strong 2016 showing, the 2020 field will surely include someone from the party’s populist wing. Most mentioned now, besides Sanders, who will be 79 by then, are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 67, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, 64, who hails from the region where Democrats need to regain support.
One unknowable factor is the degree to which the 2020 field will include minority hopefuls. Since the Democratic electorate is about 40 percent black, Hispanic and Asian-American, more than half of that African-American, it’s a safe bet the next race won’t resemble the last one, which pitted a 68-year-old white woman against a 74-year-old white man.
Besides Booker and Patrick, that could include one or more lesser known, younger Democrats: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, 42, of Texas; freshman California Sen. Kamala Harris, 52; newly named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 58; and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, 55, of Maryland, a potential candidate for Democratic National Chairman.
Sanders is not the only 2016 also-ran who has never stopped campaigning. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, 53, (made) his seventh visit to Iowa since the 2016 caucuses. Competent but bland, he could be the anti-Trump voters may want.
And others may emerge, including someone not now in major office. After all, who would have figured Donald Trump as even a contender four years ago?
It’s a presidential race few Democrats expected, and will take some time to sort out. But early New Hampshire and Iowa visits, like Kander’s and O’Malley’s, are always one early indicator.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.