Democrats use gim­micks to grab at­ten­tion, gain rel­e­vancy

Can­di­dates seek their edge in a crowded field

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Even Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris jumped on the band­wagon Thurs­day, fir­ing off an email to her sup­port­ers with the sub­ject line “Beto O’Rourke.”

As the for­mer Texas con­gress­man jumped into the pres­i­den­tial race, Ms. Har­ris pleaded with her back­ers to send her cash to fend him off.

Those are the kinds of at­ten­tion-grab­bing gim­micks Demo­cratic can­di­dates are turn­ing to as they try to carve out rel­e­vancy amid the crowded field and the long months un­til the vot­ing ac­tu­ally be­gins.

Mr. O’Rourke’s an­nounce­ment re­ceived wall-to-wall cov­er­age on the ca­ble news net­works, which tracked and an­a­lyzed his ev­ery move­ment dur­ing the first day of a sched­uled three-day swing through Iowa.

Even Pres­i­dent Trump tuned in, say­ing one thing stood out dur­ing Mr. O’Rourke’s launch.

“I think he has got a lot of hand move­ment, I’ve never seen so much hand move­ment,” Mr. Trump told re­porters. “I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’”

Mr. O’Rourke is the lat­est po­ten­tial Trump chal­lenger to en­joy mar­quee treat­ment, but it’s a safe bet at­ten­tion will soon shift to whether for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den joins the race.

That will leave Mr. O’Rourke once again amid the rest of the pack strug­gling to find a voice.

It’s some­thing the other de­clared can­di­dates have been grap­pling with.

A marathon, not a sprint

“Every­body will get a mo­ment with a sort of fla­vo­rof-the-month stage,” South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg told The Wash­ing­ton Times late last year. “It will prob­a­bly be fla­vor of the week­end, and then how do you out­last that.”

Mr. But­tigieg en­joyed the lime­light this week­end in a na­tion­ally tele­vised CNN town hall.

He de­liv­ered a mem­o­rable zinger about an­other In­di­ana politi­cian, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

“How would he al­low him­self to be­come the cheer­leader for the porn star pres­i­dency? Is it that he stopped be­liev­ing in scrip­ture when he started be­liev­ing Don­ald Trump?” Mr. But­tigieg asked. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

The CNN ap­pear­ance helped him rake in $600,000 from 22,000 do­na­tions over a 24-hour pe­riod — his big­gest sin­gle-day fundrais­ing haul, mov­ing him closer to qual­i­fy­ing for the first Demo­cratic de­bate.

“There is no doubt that the CNN town hall in­creased in­ter­est in Mayor Pete,” said But­tigieg spokes­woman Lis Smith. “We re­ceived a rush of in­ter­est from folks in early states that hadn’t been there be­fore. So right now it’s in­cum­bent on us to cap­i­tal­ize on that.”

Ms. Smith said they view the race as a marathon and are plan­ning for “ebbs and flows of at­ten­tion, while see­ing that there is al­ways a dan­ger in over­ex­po­sure.”

Stuck in the pack

Mr. But­tigieg is among the nine de­clared or likely can­di­dates that reg­is­tered at 1 per­cent in a Morn­ing Con­sult Poll re­leased this week.

The group in­cludes for­mer Obama hous­ing chief Julián Castro, who, seek­ing not to be up­staged by fel­low Texan Mr. O’Rourke, blasted out a “Texas-sized” fundrais­ing email Thurs­day.

“I’ve got some big news — this morn­ing my cam­paign an­nounced that we have now re­ceived more than 30 en­dorse­ments from elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cials from across Texas,” Mr. Castro said. “From state rep­re­sen­ta­tives to county judges, from mem­bers of Congress to a for­mer Cab­i­net sec­re­tary, our cam­paign is quickly pick­ing up sup­port all across my home state.” Mr. O’Rourke’s mo­ment could be fleet­ing as well. Party lead­ers and ac­tivists say the for­mer con­gress­man is go­ing to be pressed to move be­yond his lofty lan­guage of unity and flesh out his pol­icy po­si­tions with de­tails.

“This is not just an­other county rodeo that he is en­ter­ing here,” for­mer Texas Agri­cul­tural Com­mis­sioner Jim Hightower, an in­for­mal O’Rourke ad­viser, said on MSNBC. “He’s vy­ing for the cow­boy cham­pi­onship and there are some very se­ri­ous con­tenders on the other side, so this is not go­ing to be as easy as the Se­nate race was.”

Mr. O’Rourke lost that race last year by less than 3 per­cent­age points to Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz.

Tough for new guys

The 2016 Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion race showed just how tough it can be for in­sur­gent can­di­dates to make a mark.

For­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley and for­mer Sens. Lin­coln Chafee of Rhode Is­land and Jim Webb of Vir­ginia failed to break through in a race that was pri­mar­ily framed as a bout be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Sen. Bernard Sanders.

“Our po­lit­i­cal world only has room in its col­lec­tive brain for a hand­ful of can­di­dates, maybe as few as three,” said Craig Craw­ford, who worked on Mr. Webb’s short­lived cam­paign. “Any­one not in that top tier will strug­gle for at­ten­tion and money.”

Mr. Craw­ford said there’s a chance for lesser-knowns to au­di­tion for big roles such as a Cab­i­net post — but for well-known can­di­dates who fail to make the grade, “you’re screwed, la­beled a loser.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

For­mer Texas con­gress­man Beto O’Rourke’s an­nounce­ment dur­ing his trip to Iowa that he’s jump­ing into the pres­i­den­tial race re­ceived wall-to-wall cov­er­age on the ca­ble news net­works Thurs­day.

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris pleaded for sup­port­ers to send cash to fend off for­mer Texas con­gress­man Beto O’Rourke in the pres­i­den­tial race.

South Bend, In­di­ana, mayor Pete But­tigieg de­liv­ered a zinger about Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence dur­ing a town hall ear­lier this week.

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