The 2018 elections are finally — mostly — settled. And we all know what that means: It’s time to start talking about 2020. And indeed, some prominent politicians are beginning to say out loud what everyone knows they’ve been thinking all along, that they might sign up to run against President Donald Trump in two years.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have said in recent interviews that they’re thinking about it. They, along with their California colleague Kamala Harris, another possible candidate, are fresh off muscle-flexing Judiciary Committee performances during the widely watched Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Yet another senator, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, is having a moment of his own after winning a populist-themed reelection campaign in a state otherwise dominated by the GOP. He too has said he’s looking at the race.
On the Republican side, outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a 2016 Republican primary candidate and one of the few party bigwigs who’s been relentlessly critical of the president’s behavior, said he’s considering a challenge.
One Democrat who swears that, right now, he’s not running is former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu’s comments came in a new interview with New York Times columnist Charles Blow, the latest in a long series of admiring national press pieces.
Take that denial with a grain of salt, for now. Nobody’s running until they are, and Landrieu has more reason to sit back and let the field develop than some of his potential competitors.
For one thing, he’s basically said that he’d likely back former Vice President Joe Biden if he chooses to run. And while Landrieu has talked up the idea of a mayor going straight to the White House, there are better-known mayors who’ve led much bigger cities in the mix. One is Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti, who has said he’d likely decide one way or the other by year’s end. Another is New York’s Michael Bloomberg.
Beyond that, his conversation with Blow suggests that he’s given some real thought to where he’d fit into what’s sure to be a large field running at a tumultuous time.
One concern is that the issue on which he’s staked his national reputation is racial reconciliation, which could prove politically tricky for a white man running in a diverse field. African-American voters are a key Democratic bloc in southern states, and “you don’t know how African-Americans in the South are going to perform if a white Democrat from the South is running against three really good African-American candidates,” he told Blow. “We’ve never had that before. You could have it this time.”
Another is that his relative pragmatism — what he called “radical centrism” — might not play among primary voters looking for a more confrontational or ideologically progressive approach.
He’s probably right that these challenges are more daunting than one that many locals raise, his stewardship of the long-troubled Sewerage & Water Board. National races tend to focus much more on compelling narratives than on local governance, frequent boil-water orders notwithstanding. Also, while Landrieu didn’t fix everything, he’s got many successes to tout.
And he’s definitely right that the first step toward figuring out whether he’d have a chance is to grapple with these issues. Identifying a “lane,” people in politics call it, or envisioning a path to victory.
But don’t believe for a minute that he’s not giving significant thought to the matter, or that “I haven’t done anything that a person who was running for president would do,” as he professed in his interview with Blow.
He’s published a book on his push to remove Confederate-themed monuments from New Orleans streets — and promoted it much more heavily around the country than in Louisiana. Since leaving office, he’s spoken extensively at conferences and political events in other states. He continues to have the sort of conversations with national media figures who keep his name in the news.
In other words, he’s done plenty already. And that doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon.