Watch CBS News

Democrats struggle to attract top-tier Senate candidates

Abrams: "Just as capable" of becoming president
Stacey Abrams: Past experience allows me "to be just as capable" of becoming president as others 07:40

Chuck Schumer spent months trying to get Stacey Abrams, who nearly won the Georgia governorship last November, to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020. He even chose her to give the official Democratic response to the State of the Union, a slot typically reserved for only the party's most talented up-and-comers. 

Abrams, however, announced this week that she would pass on the run against freshman Republican Sen. David Perdue. And that's a problem for Schumer, who needs to be recruiting top-tier talent like Abrams across the country if Democrats are going to have a shot at winning back the Senate. 

Abrams is not the only prominent Democrat to turn down a potential Senate run in recent weeks, stymying Schumer's efforts to recruit strong candidates for 2020. Some are passing on the Senate in order to join the massive Democratic primary field, which already has nearly two dozen candidates. 

Democrats control 47 Senate seats, while Republicans have the other 53. And while attention is focused on the race for the White House, it would be difficult for any potential Democratic president to fulfill his or her campaign promises unless they wind up with at least 50 Senate seats after the next election. 

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke chose to run for president after he narrowly lost his Texas Senate race in 2018, instead of challenging Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the presidential race instead of running against Sen. Cory Gardner, considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020. 

Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who many national Democrats hoped would run against Sen. Steve Daines, seems more likely to launch a presidential campaign. Abrams is also considering jumping into the presidential race, telling "CBS This Morning" in March that her successes in "transforming the electorate" in her home state shows she'd be "just as capable of becoming the President of the United States as anyone running." She could also run against GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a 2022 rematch. 

Meanwhile, high-profile Rep. Joaquin Castro -- twin brother of presidential candidate Julián Castro -- also declined to run against Cornyn in Texas. However, Democrats may be avoiding a primary in that state, as former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar has declared a run.

Mark Kelly, an astronaut and gun control advocate, is running against Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, who is considered one of the weaker Republican candidates in the field in 2020.

Democrats may struggle to gain the majority in the Senate in 2020, particularly since they have some vulnerable candidates, most notably Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama. And without strong contenders to challenge weaker Senate Republicans, the power gap between the GOP and Democrats in the Senate could grow ever wider.

Republicans crowed over the Democrats' seeming inability to recruit more strong Senate candidates.

"Today's embarrassing recruitment failure is another devastating blow to Chuck Schumer's dream of a Democratic Senate," Jack Pandol, communications director for the Senate Leadership Fund, told the Associate Press

"Now that top-tier Democrats in nearly every competitive state have all said no to Chuck Schumer, the picture is becoming clear: Democrats simply do not believe in Schumer's ability to lead them into the majority."

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, chairwoman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, told reporters recently that her party had "plenty of time" to lock in candidates.

"Just because we don't get somebody that you're aware of doesn't mean we're not going to find or have somebody that can beat those Republican incumbents in a state on the kitchen-table issues that matter to voters," Cortez Masto said.

Stewart Boss, spokesperson for the DSCC, also told CBS News that Republicans had more to fear than Democrats in this cycle.

"Republicans are on defense this cycle, trying to rescue weak incumbents with toxic records raising health care costs and giving tax breaks to corporations and billionaires in states where the president lost or is increasingly unpopular. We're well-positioned to take advantage of this climate and will have impressive candidates in these battleground states," Boss said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.