It was not just Tuesday’s candidates who were in an all-out sprint in the final days before the midterm elections. The Democrats likely to emerge as presidential candidates in the coming months were, as well, campaigning everywhere from Manchester to San Diego. And if past is prologue, a close look at their itineraries should provide some preliminary hints about their priorities and what could come next for them, after this week’s dust clears.
I dug into the schedules of the six best-known potential contenders who were particularly active campaigners over the past three weeks — October 15 through November 5 — to look for signs regarding 2018 tactics and, maybe, potential 2020 plans. There was ample material: collectively, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Michael Bloomberg made 45 visits to states that weren’t their own, largely on behalf of current candidates. As a result, we got some clear indications of which races they found most important, which kinds of voters some of them anticipate chasing before long, and what they may be trying to prove before they themselves run.
Some important caveats do apply here. Many of the possible candidates have been campaigning in, raising money for, or helping out with midterm races for weeks — if not months — prior to the final stretch covered by this list, and some have also recorded last-second ads or robo-calls that aren’t captured by this list, which only looks at their travel patterns. Some of them have also spent time campaigning for candidates in their own states — particularly Booker, in New Jersey, and Harris, in California — and Warren spent much of her time focused on her own reelection in Massachusetts, rather than campaigning intensely for others in person.
With all that said, some quick observations:
• Two of the oldest potential contenders — Biden, 75, and Sanders, 77, who will both likely face questions about their stamina if they run in 2020 — were the most active on the trail: the former vice president hit 14 states, while the Vermont senator visited 11 over the three-week period. The exception here is the 76-year-old Bloomberg, who visited just four competitive states even as he released ads across the country during the final days of campaigning. That’s not to say he wasn’t traveling, though: he made non-political appearances in Hawaii and Singapore on Sunday and Monday.
• After the likely candidates spent months largely avoiding the states that vote early in the presidential nominating process, that pattern was abandoned in the midterm homestretch. Sanders hit all four of the early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — over the past three weeks, while Booker and Harris each made it to three (he skipped Iowa, which he had visited shortly before; she missed New Hampshire). Only Warren didn’t visit any of those four: out of all of the likely contenders, she traveled the least, visiting only three states as she closed out her own reelection campaign with town-hall meetings, debates, and other events at home in Massachusetts. (Sanders is also up for reelection — both are likely to win handily.)
• Biden, forever on a mission to prove that he can campaign where practically no other national Democrat would be welcome, made it to Missouri for Senator Claire McCaskill, and to North Dakota, where Senator Heidi Heitkamp is in the fight of her political life. Biden, however, wasn’t totally alone: Booker visited North Dakota, as well, and also swung by conservative Indiana, where Senator Joe Donnelly is in his own reelection scrap. (Sanders also visited Indiana, but it wasn’t for Donnelly — it was for a progressive House candidate. Donnelly’s name didn’t come up during Sanders’s appearance there.)
• Just as telling as where the group went is where they didn’t. Over the final weeks, not one of the bunch made it to Texas, West Virginia, or Tennessee — key states in Democrats’ campaign to keep the Senate margin close. But national liberals are unlikely to help their partisan candidates, who need local moderates on their side, in those states. Sanders was the only one of the crew to visit Arizona, another state in that category, but he wasn’t there to help Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, the local Democrat running for the Senate seat. (This is a pattern.)
• The two highest-profile gubernatorial races in the country were obvious draws: Booker, Harris, and Warren all made it to Georgia, where former state House minority leader Stacey Abrams is looking to become the country’s first ever black female governor in her race against Republican secretary of state Brian Kemp. And Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Booker all swung through Florida, where Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is favored to top former congressman and close Donald Trump ally Ron DeSantis on his way to becoming the state’s first black governor.
• Much of the travel, in fact, took the group to the destinations where they could be expected to draw the biggest headlines — and crowds. That largely meant places with Senate races that are critical to Democrats’ hopes of winning the chamber — or at least minimizing their losses — where their presences could actually be useful in rallying locals rather than enraging them. When those states also had competitive governor’s races, all the better. Among these destinations were Michigan (Biden, Sanders, Bloomberg), Pennsylvania (Biden, Bloomberg), Ohio (Biden, Warren), Nevada (Biden, Sanders, Harris, Booker), Wisconsin (Harris, Warren, Biden, Sanders), and Florida. It just so happens that many of these states are also the most valuable swing states in presidential general elections.
• Biden’s heavy travel schedule took him to a number of states that none of the other five visited — primarily states with competitive House races but no toss-ups statewide: Illinois, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Virginia.
• Aside from South Carolina, meanwhile, Bloomberg’s itinerary — Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania — was dominated by states with large suburban or moderate populations that people close to him believe fit his profile: horrified by Trump, but not quite hard-left.
• Unlike the others (except home-state senator Harris), Sanders visited California, which is home to a wide range of close congressional contests that could flip the House of Representatives, and which could play a larger-than-usual role in 2020’s nominating contest due to its earlier-than-usual primary. He also swung by Colorado, which everyone else skipped. That state is home to an under-the-radar gubernatorial contest in which congressman Jared Polis could soon become the most progressive governor in the country — and in a traditional battleground state that could be front-and-center come 2020.
• After Hillary Clinton took heavy criticism in the months after November 2016 for not visiting Wisconsin during that general election, this crew made sure to go out of its way to prove it wasn’t going to the same mistake. Four of the six of them visited the state, which hosts a Senate race and Republican governor Scott Walker’s reelection campaign.
The full October 15 - November 5 travel lists, in alphabetical order:
Biden (14): Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin
Bloomberg (4): Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina
Booker (7): Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Dakota, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina
Harris (6): Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, Wisconsin
Sanders (11): Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Wisconsin
Warren (3): Georgia, Ohio, Wisconsin