The 2020 Democratic presidential race is still wide open, but candidates who have yet to break through have to decide how long they want to ride it out. In some cases, their ambitions for political Plan B will force them to make that call sooner rather than later.
For former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who is polling at an average 0.2 percent, the pressure is coming from inside his own campaign to drop out and run for Senate. It’s a safe bet that he’s not the only one in that boat.
Competitive races back home are taking shape without these 2020 candidates. Other Democrats are running, there are filing deadlines that don’t necessarily comport with a presidential candidate’s plan for how long to stay in the race, and it’s not a guarantee these presidential candidates could even win their primary.
Who are the 2020 candidates who might be enticed to run for something else? And by when do they have to decide? And what challenges would they face? Here’s a rundown:
Beto O’Rourke for Senate in Texas
The former congressman from Texas ran for Senate in 2018 and nearly upset Sen. Ted Cruz (R). This time, national Democrats were hoping he’d try again to get rid of a Republican senator, with Sen. John Cornyn (R) up for reelection.
When he’d have to decide: O’Rourke has the tightest timeline of the bunch. The filing deadline to be a candidate in Texas is Dec. 9, 2019, which is before any primary votes are cast.
The early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — have their primaries in February. On March 3, 14 states hold their primaries in what’s known as Super Tuesday. Some Democratic strategists think by then we could know who the nominee is. (Of course, the 2016 Democratic primary went all the way to June.)
His challenges: Democrats have already recruited someone, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, to challenge Cornyn. She lost her 2018 congressional race but earned national attention for her strong campaign ads. She’s not as well known as O’Rourke in the state, but would Democrats be willing to switch allegiances if he got in the race?
Steve Bullock for Senate in Montana
The Montana governor is a talented politician who won reelection in 2016 even as his state voted for Trump by nearly 20 points. That’s his central pitch for president, and he’s term-limited as governor. Bullock didn’t make the polling requirements to be on June’s debate stage, and some Democrats would love for him to focus his campaign skills on unseating Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who has warned supporters he’s at risk of losing reelection.
When he’d have to decide: Probably March 2020. (Montana hasn’t shared its filing deadline yet, but it’s usually in March of the election year.)
His challenges: Bullock would immediately be a competitive candidate who has proven he can win in Montana. But that doesn’t mean he can knock off a sitting Republican senator.
John Hickenlooper for Senate in Colorado
The former Colorado governor has been urged by his own campaign to “gracefully exit” the presidential stage and try to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner (R) back home, according to Politico.
When he’d have to decide: He’d need to let his party know he’s running by April of 2020. That’s about the time that Colorado’s Democratic Party will hold an assembly and vote on who should be on the ballot.
Colorado’s presidential primary is March 2020, on Super Tuesday. So Hickenlooper could have time to stay in the race until then — if he can afford it. Hickenlooper raised just $1 million this past quarter, Politico reported.
His challenges: Gardner is one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020, in a state that’s fast becoming blue. So there are a dozen Democratic candidates running for the nomination, including the former Colorado House majority leader, Alice Madden, and Andrew Romanoff, the former Colorado House speaker. Some of them have raised $1 million themselves.
Jay Inslee for Washington governor (again)
The Washington governor is probably the most secure candidate on this list. He could run for a third term as governor rather than president, and he has plenty of time to decide.
When he’d have to decide: The candidate filing deadline in Washington is May 15, 2020. Washington’s presidential primary is March 10, so Inslee could stay in the race through to his home state and then some.
His challenges: There aren’t nearly as many as the other candidates on this list. But Inslee is running to leave Washington state, and it might not sit well with voters if he turns back around and asks for another term. But hey, it worked for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), even after Rubio said he was done with the Senate, then ran for his Senate seat after failing to win the 2016 Republican nomination.
What about all the members of Congress running for president and their reelections?
They’re running for both Congress and president, which you can do if your state allows it. Earlier this year New Jersey passed a law allowing a member of Congress from its state to run for president without losing their job — it was nicknamed Cory’s Law because everyone knew it was specifically to let Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) run for president and his Senate seat.
Most other members of Congress running for president and up for reelection in 2020 will probably be fine running for their old seats in case the whole president thing doesn’t work out, according to a rundown of state laws by Roll Call’s Jacob Fischler.
That means Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) can run for both. All the other senators save Booker don’t have elections in 2020.
All of these 2020 candidates would be an even bolder name in their home state elections than they were before launching their campaign. That’s one of the benefits of running for president — some cynics would say it’s one of the reasons long shots launch presidential campaigns in the first place.