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.
¶ With her expected campaign launch nearing, Kamala Harris has settled on Baltimore for her team’s HQ, after also considering Atlanta and (briefly) Philadelphia, according to multiple Democrats familiar with the decision. A West Coast campaign base was never really in play for the California senator. Logistics, logistics, logistics.
¶ It’s no secret Beto O’Rourke and his aides have been hearing from people across the Democratic Party as he considers running for president. While the former congressman road-trips and thinks 2020, at least one person he’s consulted with has some direct 2016 experience to share. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who placed a distant third to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in that year’s primary, has chatted with the Texan “a couple of times,” O’Malley told me last week. He announced his decision to pass on a 2020 run, and endorse O’Rourke, in a Des Moines Register op-ed earlier this month, and he now says that after campaigning more than just about anyone else for Democrats in 2017 and 2018, he sees an electorate yearning for a new, fearless kind of leader — and if that person is of a younger generation, so much the better. “Whether it’s immigration, it’s making our economy work for everyone, it’s addressing climate change, and seizing that opportunity for our kids, and for jobs here in the U.S., I mean, those are a few of the policy pillars [of my 2016 campaign]. And all of that substance will enter into, I’m sure, his own alchemy, in his own way, if he should choose to run. He gave me no guarantees that he will.” But, grinned O’Malley, “I realize I’m out in front of his skis a little bit, and I’m okay with that.”
¶ While most of the 2020 crowd is rushing to kickoff, at least one likely hopeful is taking it slow, deliberately: Montana governor Steve Bullock, who’s spent plenty of time in Iowa and New Hampshire — and meeting donors and potential supporters in Washington and New York — in recent months, will likely stick to Helena rather than Des Moines until at least the spring. Why? He still has a day job. He’s made clear to allies that he’s unlikely to launch his probable bid until his state’s legislative session is through.
¶ Meanwhile, even further West, a different kind of slowdown. For months, it looked like Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti was just about a sure thing to run — and soon — between his early-state visits, his political hiring, and his investments in the Democratic infrastructures of politically useful states. But over the last few weeks, that seems to have decelerated a bit, according to some close allies. Things aren’t exactly easy these days for the sitting mayor of the country’s second-largest city. Not only is a massive teachers’ strike roiling L.A., local reports now have the FBI looking into records of people in and around City Hall as part of a corruption investigation. Let’s be clear: Garcetti hasn’t been directly implicated, and he’s still considering a run. But wired-in early-state operatives who used to hear from him and his team tell me that’s dried up recently, just as other candidates’ outreach has been intensifying.
¶ Washington governor Jay Inslee has made 2020 news in recent weeks both by heavily implying he’ll run a climate-first campaign and by running afoul of powerful New Hampshire Democrats who were furious with his decision not to direct resources their way for that state’s gubernatorial race last year. (He was the head of the Democratic Governors Association.) This week, it was time for another eyebrow-raiser as he talked up his new carbon emissions reduction plan: He appeared in his official capacity as governor on Thursday with just-“retired” California governor Jerry Brown, a climate crusader himself, and a former presidential candidate who’d be in the middle of plenty of 2020 chatter right now if he were a few years younger.