NASHUA, N.H. — Pick the wrong candidate at the top of the ticket and Democrats could squander any chance of taking over the Senate in 2020. And without a Democratic Senate, everything presidential rivals Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Mike Bloomberg are pitching won’t happen.
That’s a major takeaway from the unfolding 2020 Democratic primary as the action vaults from New Hampshire to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond.
The 2020 election is not just about the White House. For Democrats, a priority is also seizing control of the Senate.
Democrats weighing whom to back have a tandem responsibility: Nominating someone who can win the White House who also has coattails strong enough to help flip the Senate. And I don’t want to keep you in suspense. This question weighs more on Sanders than his rivals. Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist.
Republicans can, will and already do use the word socialist to describe all Democrats.
In some precincts with conservative and independent voters, the word socialist is a pejorative. Since most Democrats are not socialists it’s hard for Republicans to make that stick. It will be easier for President Donald Trump and his allies to raise doubts — even if not true — with down ticket candidates with Sanders as the presidential nominee.
Democrats need to pick up four seats to control the Senate — three if there is a Democratic president, since the vice president could break a tie.
If the Senate remains in GOP control — with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Majority Leader — there is no reason to believe any Democratic president could advance his or her agenda.
McConnell will throw a blockade around the initiatives of any Democratic president.
The most stunning example of McConnell’s intransigence was his refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nomination of President Barack Obama. Obama tapped Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland on March 16, 2016. McConnell blocked consideration of the Lincolnwood-raised Garland on the grounds that 2016 was a presidential election year.
The most vulnerable Republican incumbents are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine; Cory Gardner of Colorado; Martha McSally of Arizona; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
The most at-risk incumbent Democrats are Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan.
“We have one job come November and that is beat Donald Trump. But we also have a second job and that is take back the Senate and put Mitch McConnell out of a job. We got to do this,” Warren said at stop in Rochester, N.H., on Monday.
At the debate in Manchester last Friday, former Vice President Biden was most blunt about how President Donald Trump would demonize Sanders and down ticket Democrats if Sanders were the nominee.
“With regard to Senator Sanders, the president wants very much to stick a label on every candidate. We’re going to not only have to win this time, we have to bring along the United States Senate. And Bernie’s labeled himself, not me, a democratic socialist. I think that’s the label that the president’s going to lay on everyone running with Bernie if he’s a nominee,”
Later in the debate Biden added, “You have to ask yourself, who is most likely to help get a senator elected in North Carolina, Georgia? Who can win Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota? Who can do that? Because you got to be able to win those … Well, you can. I agree. But here’s the point. You’ve got to be able to, you’ve got to be able to not just win, you’ve got to bring along a United States Senate or this becomes moot.”
There is an argument to welcome Sanders as the nominee and not worry that he will drag down Senate candidates, particularly in the South. Sanders can energize voters and grow the Democratic base. The crowds Sanders draws prove his turnout appeal. It’s his job now to explain better how he won’t be a liability and can transfer his popularity to other Democrats. And show it’s all not just for himself.