NEW YORK | Democrats are hitting fast forward.
The first major presidential campaign announcements may be made before year’s end. The Democratic National Committee plans to announce a debate structure by then featuring 15 to 20 candidates. The first primary debate could happen as early as May, nearly three months before the premiere debate of the 2016 cycle.
And long-rumored White House hopefuls are already stepping out of the race.
Like it or not, the 2020 presidential season is here. For some potential contenders, there’s an increasing sense of urgency to be in the initial wave of declared candidates in what will likely be a large, unwieldy field. And for the party as a whole, there’s motivation to move forward with what’s expected to be a nasty fight — and wrap it up in time to give the eventual nominee strong footing to take on President Donald Trump.
“It starts now, but there will be a lot of ups and downs,” said Democratic consultant Jesse Ferguson, who previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “Anyone who thinks the early front-runner will also go the distance hasn’t seen how these campaigns play out.”
This week has offered a preview of the drama that could be in store. Former Vice President Joe Biden declared himself “the most qualified person in the country to be president,” billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer courted activists in key states, and at least two prospects — former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and firebrand attorney Michael Avenatti — publicly bowed out of the 2020 contest.
For those preparing candidacies, activity is picking up. While she has yet to make a final decision, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is laying the groundwork for an early launch — potentially by year’s end but more likely in January. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are also lining up for early launches.
Aides to the Democrats addressed their plans on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose internal discussions.
Another well-funded set, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Bloomberg and Steyer, believe they can afford to wait slightly longer to announce their intentions given their fundraising prowess.
Others may need to soon form presidential exploratory committees to access millions of dollars locked in their Senate campaign accounts to pay for travel, consulting and polling related to a possible White House bid. That’s especially true for Warren, Gillibrand, O’Rourke, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.