On Capitol Hill this week in the aftermath of the midterm election, there has been a fresh urgency to the perennial question for the nearly a dozen Democratic members of Congress who are widely considered potential candidates for president: Are you going to run?
“At some point, I obviously have to make a decision,” California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris told CNN Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
“I am exploring it,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley answered.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says she’s thinking “long and hard” about it. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is talking about “blue prints” for 2020. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker says he is indeed taking time to think about it. And California Rep. Eric Swalwell tells CNN that he will be making his decision very soon.
There is a particularly very large crop of potential 2020 Democratic candidates who are currently serving in the House or Senate – potentially a list that could swell to well over a dozen. Many believe those numbers will push the field to lean into their ambitions sooner and stronger as they each try to stand out in a crowded field among their colleagues.
“The dynamic changes pretty drastically,” veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi says. “It always does the day after a midterm election but I think this time because of the competitiveness, because of so many candidates are in the House and Senate I think the temperature on that change is going to rise pretty quickly.”
CNN spoke with multiple members of Congress whose names have been in the mix and nearly all isolated the next few months, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as the critical stretch in their decision making as they contemplate a potential run.
“I think most people will make the decision and whether they announce it or not are going to be more or less making the decision and working to layout the initial plan during the holidays,” Merkley said.
The holiday season means time away from Washington spent in their home districts with family as they not only weigh a run but also start putting the early pieces of campaign together, thinking about staff, fundraising and strategizing over when and how to make an announcement.
“I think right after the New Year,” Swalwell said anticipating when he would announce his decision, “The Iowa Caucus is mid-January the following year, so I think you need a full year.”
Swalwell had already made 12 trips to Iowa before the midterms, and he plans to visit the state again on December 20, in addition to making a stop in New Hampshire before the end of the year, he tells CNN.
Last month, Harris, Booker, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota all made at least one visit to Iowa while Gillibrand made a trip to New Hampshire.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has started poking fun at the dynamic among the Democrats, joking that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “might have some attendance problems” coming up soon as members will be spending more time in the early-states.
Meanwhile, the members know everything they say and do from this point forward will be interpreted though the 2020 lens and their impending decision.
“Things are going to be seen differently from here on in,” Trippi said of the members, “You could have done anything you wanted in your committee hearing six months ago and no one would have been interpreting it like tarot card whether you are running for president or not. Well, that is over.”