On Monday, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-ME) announced she is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Within a day of her announcement, Gideon scored several high-profile endorsements, including one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The Maine senate seat is considered a top pick up opportunity for Democrats in 2020, so it makes sense that the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm would want to consolidate support around a candidate early. But could that strategy end up backfiring?
Gideon garnered a lot of attention following her announcement, but she isn’t the only Democrat running. Bre Kidman, an attorney and LGBT activist, and Betsy Sweet, a women’s rights lobbyist, have already launched campaigns and there are as many as seven others who are reportedly considering a run. The DSCC’s endorsement was likely a move to dissuade others from jumping in, but their decision didn’t go unnoticed by the announced candidates. Kidman told The Washington Free Beacon that she was “genuinely disgusted by national Democrats’ decision to ordain” Gideon as “the candidate.” Sweet, who was endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned group, Democracy For America, seemed to agree. She told The Beacon, “It’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Chuck Schumer and D.C. lobbyists and operatives feel the need to tell Mainers who to support in the primary.”
The blowback highlights a potential problem for Senate Democrats. As of Thursday morning, the group has endorsed five candidates who still have to get through a primary election. While some, like Mark Kelly in Arizona, have essentially cleared the field, others are facing potentially tough primaries in a field of candidates that is not finalized. By making an endorsement this early, party leaders are risking resistance from activists who may choose to rally behind a different candidate. Such a scenario could lead to a bitter primary and hinder Democrats chances of retaking the senate in 2020.
AR/Intel Insiders: Dig deeper on all the races mentioned in this post with our updated Senate Race Briefs for Maine, Iowa, Colorado, & North Carolina.
A similar narrative is unfolding in Iowa, where the DSCC has thrown its support behind real estate executive Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield, who launched her campaign earlier this month, received an endorsement from the group three days after her announcement. Like in Maine, Greenfield was not the only Democrat running either. Eddie Mauro, an insurance CEO, and attorney Kimberly Graham both announced their candidacy earlier this year. Mauro, who also ran for congress last year, expressed disappointment that “D.C. insiders and the D.C. establishment” were working to influence the primary race. Graham had a more pointed reaction to the endorsement, claiming the DSCC had not returned her calls or emails and had declined to meet with her about the race.
It seems clear that Democratic party leaders are trying to tilt the scales in this primary. Last month Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reportedly called J.D. Schloten, the Democratic nominee in Iowa’s 4th District last year who has been eyeing the Iowa race, and tried to dissuade him from running. Although Scholten has still not made a final decision, he also was frustrated by the DSCC’s endorsement decision.
It remains to be seen if the DSCC will ultimately make an endorsement in Colorado and North Carolina, but such a decision would also carry risk in those races. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is viewed by Democrats as one of the most-vulnerable incumbents next year, and there are several viable candidates running in the primary to challenge him. The same could be said for the primary in North Carolina, where Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is also a top target. There are already four Democrats running with several more openly considering jumping in. The DSCC was rumored to be endorsing Iraq War veteran Cal Cunningham after he entered the race earlier this month, but appears to be waiting a bit longer for the field take shape now. In either case, an endorsement in these races could create serious backlash from party activists who are growing more dissatisfied with D.C. elites every day.
Given their early involvement, it would appear that the DSCC thinks their best chance of retaking the senate next year is by backing candidates early and snuffing out any challengers. Unfortunately for party leaders, however, this strategy could easily backfire and make 2020 an even bigger challenge.