From campaign reboots to suggesting changes to the presidential primary calendar, the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls who won’t be on the debate stage Wednesday are increasingly reaching for some kind of relevance to keep their campaigns afloat.
Ten candidates have qualified for the debate, leaving about a half-dozen major Democratic contenders still in the race fighting for scraps of attention where they can find it.
“The door is still halfway open for someone to emerge from the dust. But it closes a little bit every day and it’s already half-closed,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro is the lone surviving candidate who qualified for last month’s debate and who didn’t hit the Democratic National Committee’s polling and fundraising requirements for Wednesday’s event. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who was also 1 of 12 onstage in Ohio last month, has since exited the race.
Mr. Castro has turned heads in recent days for urging a rethink of the first-in-the-nation status of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary because the states’ populations aren’t diverse enough.
Party leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire pushed back, saying that clamoring for changes to the calendar happen every four years but always ultimately fall by the wayside.
“When you’re in a losing campaign, you try anything,” said Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, a research and polling company.
For his part, Mr. Castro has touted endorsements this week from party leaders in states like Nevada, Texas, Arizona, and California — states with larger percentages of nonwhite residents that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire.
Other candidates on the outside of the debate looking in have tried to reshuffle their staff in recent days.
Author Marianne Williamson promoted Juan Rodriguez, her national press secretary, to deputy campaign manager. Ms. Williamson’s campaign said he will shift his efforts to “organizing in the caucus states.”
Former Rep. John Delaney, who has been in the race since July 2017, recently announced that Kandie Stroud, a veteran of past Democratic presidential campaigns, will serve as the campaign’s new communications director.
But Mr. Delaney reiterated his vow that he will stay in the race at least until the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.
“There’s only one vote that matters to me, and that’s the Iowa caucus,” he told Sinclair Broadcast Group in an interview published this week. “And I have to do well in the Iowa caucus.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock released a new TV ad on Tuesday that will air in Iowa that opens with thousands of baseball fans chanting “lock him up!” at President Trump at a World Series game in Washington.
“I’m Steve Bullock, and I won’t promise to lock up my opponent,” he says. “But as the only Democrat running who won a state Trump won, I will promise this: After I beat Trump, I’ll empower prosecutors to follow the evidence all the way to the top.”
But Mr. Faucheux called the move a “Hail Mary” pass, saying it’s nearly impossible for a candidate excluded from the debates to get anywhere.
“Candidates like Michael Bennet and John Delaney received positive early attention,” he said. “But when they were excluded from the debates, they faded. Debate exclusion defines candidates as minor players.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who jumped into the race last week and hasn’t had time to hit the polling and fundraising thresholds for the debate, has swiftly announced trips to early states like Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.
But Mr. Bannon questioned whether there was room for Mr. Patrick in the race.
“I guess I could say it’s time for him to pack it in, but he just unpacked,” he said.
Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has not yet announced a run, but his considerable wealth and ability to self-fund a campaign could keep him afloat if he jumps into the race and fails to get onstage in the future.
Still, Mr. Bannon said the race was close to approaching a “final four” in former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“If you’re not in the debate I think that diminishes your credibility, and even some of the candidates who do qualify [for] the debate are hanging in by their fingernails,” he said.
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