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Why Several Popular Democrats Are Pursuing Presidency Over Senate Seats


As you may have heard, there's an election in 2020. That's almost the same number of Democrats who are running for president right now. But several popular Democrats - Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Beto O'Rourke in Texas, Steve Bullock in Montana - declined to run for Senate seats in their states. A couple of them will run for president instead. But if Democrats can't win a majority in the U.S. Senate, even a Democratic president might be stymied by a Republican Senate.

Anne Caprara joins us. She's chief of staff to Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois. She's also helped recruit Senate candidates during her time at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She joins us from Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANNE CAPRARA: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So why have all these Democrats decided just to go ahead and run for president and not even bother with trying to win a Senate seat?

CAPRARA: (Laughter) I do think that there is quite a lot of enthusiasm in the party about the idea of taking on Donald Trump. But I do think that, you know, the Senate is always an appealing option. And as we've seen in past cycles that have hotly contested presidential races - 2016 being the most recent example - you know, you do have Senate candidates that get into the race, like Marco Rubio in 2016, right up until the last minute. I think you're going to see a lot of really smart, good candidates running up and down the ticket next year.

SIMON: There were a number of Republican and Democratic senators over the past couple of years who've declined to run for reelection and on their way out the door said, look; it's just not the job it used to be. It's intensely partisan. And we haven't gotten a lot accomplished. Wouldn't that have the effect of also discouraging people for running for that job?

CAPRARA: Look; I think - the thing I would point you to actually is in 2008, you know, when Senator Obama was elected president. You know, we had a solid year or so of big policymaking for the Democratic Party. There is certainly the possibility in 2020 that given that Donald Trump's at the top of the ticket that we could see a Democrat move into the White House and a scenario where you're going to have a tremendous amount of opportunity to make national policy on big issues.

SIMON: Well, the - but the Democrats won't be making that policy if they can't win the Senate and when you have big-name candidates not run...

CAPRARA: Absolutely agree - I mean, the 20,000 Democrats that are running for president are all not going to make it to November of 2020. They have donors. They have staff. They have consultants. They've done ads. They've spent a lot of time debating and out and about. So if they need or want to make a switch to a Senate race, they're going to have all the resources in place to do that.

SIMON: Well, I mean, that - you're suggesting they're warming up for a Senate run by running for president, which...

CAPRARA: Well, in a year like this when you have Donald Trump, I mean, that is I think - and there's a lot of people that are looking at it going, you know, this is my shot. It's not going to be everybody's shot. But I also think you have to look at the map in totality, particularly for Democrats. They're not defending a ton of seats, and they have a lot of pickup opportunities. Colorado is probably at the top of the list. You have Arizona with a guy like Mark Kelly who had an amazing launch. You have a state like Maine. You know, I think there's a lot of positive on this map for the Democrats as well.

SIMON: Twenty-two presidential candidates and there might be more by next week.

CAPRARA: There might be more by tomorrow.

SIMON: OK. Yes. So do so many presidential campaigns suck up a lot of money and political talent from potential Senate races?

CAPRARA: I think it's a good question. I think, on the one hand, yes. I mean, there are Senate races that need top-tier campaign managers, finance directors, field directors. Those folks who may be going to a presidential campaign because they see their opportunity are not taking jobs on Senate campaigns is definitely a problem. I think in terms of resources with the push to really cultivate these small dollar donors and use that to fund these campaigns, there's almost an endless supply of these folks. So I don't know that, from a money angle, they're sucking up resources. I think from a staff angle, it can be difficult. But you hope that on the flip side what you're getting are a lot more people who are engaged in working in politics than they might have been before.

SIMON: Anne Caprara, formerly the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, now the chief of staff to the new governor of Illinois, thanks very much for being with us.

CAPRARA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.