Presidential dreams pull Democrats away from key Senate races

Democrats think they’re in position to win back the Senate in 2020. But some of the party’s biggest potential candidates are aiming for the White House instead.

The wide open Democratic presidential primary looks set to draw in more than a dozen candidates who think they could be the ones to beat President Donald Trump in 2020 — including the highest-profile Democrats in at least three key Senate states. The collection of experienced governors and newer rising stars would be at the top of any Senate recruiter’s list in another year, but the thought of running against Trump has pulled them in another direction.

In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper has been building out a possible national campaign, though he would be an A-list opponent for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, Senate Democrats’ top target in 2020. In Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Obama Cabinet secretary Julian Castro are both eyeing the White House, though Democrats believe they could be the party’s best shot at winning a Senate race after O’Rourke’s 2018 showing against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. There are even candidates in Louisiana and West Virginia, two long-shot states for Democrats; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is weighing a presidential bid; while West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda has already launched a White House run after losing a 2018 congressional contest.

The pull of the presidential race could hurt Democrats’ Senate chances in one or more states and force them to search further for potential candidates in other places — though it will also open up the Democratic Party to new blood. And it could open the door to late recruitment efforts of losing presidential candidates next year, as happened to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in 2016.

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