Dem presidential hopefuls flock to Trump country

Potential Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning for the midterms in states that 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 took from their party’s column in 2016, testing the waters for the next presidential election.

The so-called invisible campaign has begun with would-be candidates including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), 53; Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.), 49; and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), 68, checking out the political landscape while campaigning for congressional candidates. 


“It’s like preseason football practice: you’re not playing in pads yet but you’re on the field, leading the playbook,” said David Wade, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior aide to John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE during his presidential bid in 2004, said of the presidential hopefuls. “It’s candidate training, with a net.”

A number of presidential hopefuls have been stumping in blue states that turned red during the 2016 presidential election, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump was the first GOP presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, and the first to win the other two states since 1988.

Harris, for example, attended a fundraiser for Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary Bill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (D-Mich.) last month and sources close to her say she is expected to campaign for incumbent Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden launches program to turn out LGBTQ vote We need a ‘9-1-1’ for mental health — we need ‘9-8-8’ Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act MORE in Wisconsin in the coming weeks. 

Baldwin also recently received a boost from Booker, who appeared at two events in Madison and Milwaukee. He has also been making other appearances, including in Florida, where he campaigned for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE, and in Ohio for Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests Some realistic solutions for income inequality MORE.

Warren has had a similar schedule, campaigning in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan for her Senate colleagues. In addition, she did a fundraiser for Brown and also campaigned with Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayPoll: Biden, Trump neck and neck in Ohio On The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials ‘looking at’ offering coronavirus bonds Ex-CFPB director urges agency to ‘act immediately’ to help consumers during pandemic MORE, who led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she spearheaded, last month in the Buckeye State. Meanwhile, 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.) has stumped for Democratic candidates in states including Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. 

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, 75, who has said he is considering a 2020 run, has campaigned in red states including Montana and North Dakota along with Pennsylvania, where he campaigned for Conor Lamb, who won a House seat in March. 

“If they are smart, they are also listening, trying catch the vibe out there that Clinton, the [Democratic National Committee], and most of the rest of us so clearly missed last time around,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said of the visits to the key states.

The midterm campaign is seen as a time for those with 2020 hopes to earn political chits while getting exposed to voters around the country. It also allows candidates to try out a version of their stump speech with very low risk to their personal brands. 

“It’s an indispensable part of getting ready to run,” Wade added. “You get into a rhythm rhetorically, you spot strengths and weaknesses and candidate mechanics to work on before the invisible primary season goes public and you pick a whole universe of early state supporters who are forever loyal to the people who helped them when the chips were down.” 

The visits could also highlight who is popular with voters at an early stage, as candidates fighting for attention in 2018 seek to bring in the Democratic stars that will most help them in the midterms.

To date, it seems like anyone’s race.

“Every cycle, this is the first big indicator about who is wanted out on the campaign trail and who is likely to get attention in the months ahead,” one top Democratic strategist said. “You begin to start seeing a field come into view.” 

The campaigning can bear fruit for 2020 if the top-tier Democrats help members of their party take congressional seats and other political posts.

“A presidential hopeful who campaigns for a successful 2018 candidate can expect the winners to pay back big time in 2020,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who added that some of the winners could become superdelegates in two years. 

But Bannon said there are some downfalls to campaigning for the 2018 candidates. 

“The big problem is backing the wrong 2018 candidate, which could bit you on the butt in 2020,” he said.

The would-be candidates also need to be careful to not “say something stupid that could kill a 2020 campaign in the crib before it’s ready to stand by itself,” said Bannon. 

Wade added that the prospective candidates need to walk a fine line when they’re out on the stump. 

“A little subtlety goes a long way,” he said. “The presidential aspirants who breeze in and make themselves the show rather than the candidates on the ballot this year often end up alienating as many people as they attract. Your job is to help the party, help the candidates and remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them.” 

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