tales from the trail

Democratic Ex-Presidents Expected to Sit Out 2020 Primaries

But they are taking meetings… Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

2020 is really, truly here, and that means New York Magazine national correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti is on the trail, tracking the intricacies of the presidential election action. Here, some of this week’s brand-new behind-the-scenes developments in campaign strategy, stagecraft, and staffing that have popped up on the road from Des Moines to Manchester to D.C.

¶ We’re about to live through what’ll probably be the first contested Democratic primary in a while where the party’s living presidents don’t play much of an active role — Barack Obama, at least, isn’t expected to endorse anyone in the primary, and it’d come as a surprise if Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter did, either. But they’re all still paying very close attention now that the action’s really started, after taking quiet meetings with the potential candidates for months. Not only did Cory Booker meet with Carter in Georgia ahead of his expected campaign launch this month, but Julián Castro spoke briefly with both Obama and Clinton — as well as Hillary Clinton — after announcing his own bid, the former Housing secretary told me last week.

¶ Shortly after her successful inaugural Iowa trip, and before she heads to South Carolina, Kirsten Gillibrand hit the money trail. She’s aiming to raise big money online during her campaign, but she’s also still meeting with the types of donors who can chip in $2,700 at a time to her campaign (the legal limit), and maybe bundle more together for her, too. While she was in California — where she taped an episode of Pod Save America — this week, she sat for finance meetings, Democrats familiar with the schedule tell me, and she held a fundraiser in San Francisco’s Mission on Wednesday night, according to an invitation reviewed by New York. Next: her New York City finance kickoff with potential contributors in Manhattan next week, according to Democratic donors, including some financial-industry pros, who were invited to the gathering.

¶ Some movement from two yet-to-declare likely candidates out in Iowa: Booker’s had former Iowa House Democratic Caucus political chief Michael Frosolone lined up to help steer his (expected) operation in the first caucus state for a while, and he’s also now brought on Joe O’Hern, a longtime, and sought-after, operative based in the state, I’m told. Meanwhile Joe Biden’s team has — very carefully, wary of making too many waves — been making some Iowa calls of its own. Multiple members of his team, including aide Greg Schultz, have been keeping in touch with Jim Mowrer, who lost Iowa’s Democratic primary for secretary of state last year and unsuccessfully took on Representative Steve King before that. Biden’s orbit has been in touch with Mowrer for years: He was friends with Beau Biden, and led the Iowa Veterans for Biden group backing Joe ahead of his 2008 run.

¶ Rumors have been rocketing through New Hampshire about when — if, really — Beto O’Rourke will make an appearance as he considers running. But until that happens, the Draft Beto group that’s made waves by signing up operatives in other early-voting states is planning a pair of gatherings in Concord and Manchester next week that have plugged-in strategists there paying attention. The organizers haven’t committed their support to O’Rourke, but the inclusion of some names as hosts on the invitations is sending a clear message about his potential backing. For example, among the names included on the Concord invite, according to a copy shared by local attorney Jay Surdukowski: Ned Helms, a co-chair for Barack Obama’s efforts in the state, and nearly a dozen current and former local legislators. Also included? A pair of locals who helped introduce Elizabeth Warren at her recent swings through the state: state representative Matt Wilhelm and Jenn Alford-Teaster, who narrowly lost her race for state senate in November.

Democratic Ex-Presidents Expected to Sit Out 2020 Primaries