Long-shot Dems see little downside in running for president

Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMinnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen Congress must fill the leadership void Pelosi pushes to unite party on coronavirus bill despite grumbling from left MORE. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellNASCAR bans display of Confederate flag from events and properties Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts MORE.

Their names don’t spark the same nods of recognition as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), but these are three of the 24 Democrats running for president. Each is polling at less than 1 percent — and they’re hardly alone.

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ Hickenlooper ethics questions open him up to attack MORE, Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSome realistic solutions for income inequality Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests MORE (Colo.) also have national polling averages under 1 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. 

So do two candidates with arguably more national name recognition. New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioProtesters splash red paint on NYC streets to symbolize blood De Blasio: Robert E Lee’s ‘name should be taken off everything in America, period’ House Democratic whip pushes back on calls to defund police: We need to focus on reform MORE’s polling average is 0.3 percent, just behind Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE’s (N.Y.) 0.4 percent.

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All of these candidates, along with a few others in the crowded race, are decided long shots to win the nomination. But all stand to benefit from a race that will bring attention even to those candidates pulling in relatively few votes. 

“There are candidates who are running to win, and there are candidates who are running to raise their profile,” said Chris Kofinis, who served as a senior adviser to the presidential campaigns of Wesley Clarke in 2004 and John Edwards in 2008.

The long-shot candidates say they don’t see themselves that way. They see a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination, arguing that if the front-runners falter, they have as good a shot as anyone at catching fire. With the unpredictability of Trump-era politics, they say it can pay just to have your name in the mix.

In reality, many of the candidates know they are doomed, say veteran Democrats, but see the race as a chance to boost their profiles and position themselves for future opportunities.

“The next six months are going to distinguish which ones are really running and which ones aren’t,” Kofinis said.

Some candidates are young and playing the long game. Eric Swalwell, the California congressman, and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE, the Hawaii congresswoman, are both 38; Julián Castro, the Obama-era Housing and Urban Development secretary, is 44; and Ryan, the Ohio congressman, is 45.

With the first Democratic primary debate just weeks away, experts say a failed presidential bid now could set some candidates up for a stronger run in 2024, 2028 or beyond.

Other White House hopefuls may be gunning for Cabinet posts in a new Democratic administration — Commerce or Labor secretary — or aiming for a future bid for a higher office, such as senator or governor. Most wouldn’t mind being picked as a vice presidential running mate, as front-runner Joe Biden was after his failed 2008 White House bid — though that seems highly unlikely for a candidate pulling in just 1 percent support.

The bottom line is these candidates see little downside in a failed shot at the presidency. A White House run in this never-ending campaign media cycle — chock-full of CNN and MSNBC town halls, televised debates, and cable news hits — will raise these candidates’ profiles no matter how their campaigns fare. That could lead to future book deals, speaking gigs or cable news contracts.

Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Tlaib, Lowenthal pen op-ed asking Trump administration to release aid to Palestinians to fight COVID-19 House Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill MORE (D-Calif.), who serves with many of the candidates but has yet to endorse, said the motivation is “all of the above.”

“Just as likely, it’s that running for president could be a stepping stone to other things,” he said. “Just the fact that they are a presidential candidate who throws their support ultimately to the person that wins” could lead to other opportunities.

Yet another possible explanation: Some long-shot candidates are running to draw attention to a pet issue or cause they feel is being ignored by some of the top-tier contenders.

Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeInslee calls on Trump to ‘stay out of Washington state’s business’ Seattle mayor responds to Trump: ‘Go back to your bunker’ Trump warns he will take back Seattle from ‘ugly Anarchists’ if local leaders don’t act MORE, the Washington state governor, is billing himself as the climate change candidate.

Seth MoultonSeth MoultonEx-CBO director calls for more than trillion in coronavirus stimulus spending Overnight Defense: Trump’s move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd’s death ‘a national tragedy’ Democrats blast Trump’s use of military against protests MORE, a Marine and Iraq War veteran who is a congressman from Massachusetts, launched his mental health plan this week by disclosing that he had personally been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.   

“I’m sharing my experience because I want people to know they’re not alone and they should feel empowered to get the treatment they need,” tweeted Moulton, whose polling average stands at just 0.3 percent.

Ryan, the insurgent who challenged Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE for minority leader after Democrats’ 2016 drubbing, has turned his focus to job loss and the opioid epidemic in Rust Belt districts like his, which he says have too long been ignored by his party.

“Come to Youngstown, Ohio, and see what communities are actually going through, and you’ll see why I’m running and why I have a shot,” Ryan told The Hill during an interview at the Capitol. “There’s a lot of communities that look like that. And people are fed up and tired of being ignored.”

Ryan also pointed to past presidential primaries, including 2004, where candidates surged and dropped behind at different moments of the campaign.

“If you go back and look at the history of these races, the person in the lead or the top two people or three people in the lead never end up being the ones who win,” Ryan said. “You can ask President Joe Lieberman or President Howard Dean or any of these guys. It’s very, very early.”

One member of the long-shot pool who has had more time than others to get his name out there is John Delaney. The wealthy businessman and former Maryland congressman became the first Democrat to enter the race when he announced his campaign in 2017, planning to use his own money to build name recognition in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire. But so far, the strategy hasn’t paid dividends.

Asked if he’s running for some other political position, Delaney replied, “I’m running for president. That’s all I got to say about it. Opinions are like people’s mouths. Everyone has one.”

Still, he conceded that it has been a challenge to break through the news cycle when there are 24 Democrats vying for the nomination, including a former vice president and a handful of governors and senators.

Amid an increasingly prominent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Delaney still sees a lane for a centrist, bipartisan, pro-business candidate like himself.

But he realizes he needs to be more aggressive — even when rolling out a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan this week — if he wants to rise above all the noise. He’s done this by taking shots at President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, tearing into the president last month for walking out of an infrastructure meeting with Congressional leaders.

“This was a crystal clear example of him putting his own self interest ahead of the needs of the country,” Delaney said of Trump.

Some have argued that the historically large primary field reflects the enormous enthusiasm among Democrats as they look to oust Trump. But not everyone is thrilled that so many have jumped in, worried that it could drag out the nominating process and efforts to unify around a single candidate ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

“I think we’ve entered the theater of the absurd with this many candidates in the race, where reality and logic suggests the overwhelming majority simply won’t be competitive,” said one Democratic campaign strategist.

“Try to convince candidates they can’t win when they’ve convinced themselves they can is a losing proposition. … A lot of it is ego, man. It’s ego,” the strategist added.

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