After the Republican Party took control of the Senate, strengthened its House majority, picked up a host of state legislative chambers and elected a slate of new statewide candidates, various pronouncements were made about how the Democratic bench had been devastated. But there’s more to the story.
The Huffington Post asked the party’s national committees, as well as a variety of progressive advocacy groups that recruit and train candidates, to identify up-and-coming current or former officials whom they could see running for higher offices in the future. The reality Democrats face is a sobering one, as Republicans are in the majority in 68 out of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers and hold 31 governorships. So Democrats will have to get more creative, and persuasive, with their candidate recruitment to capitalize on 2016, which promises to be an easier year to inspire voters and draw them to the polls.
The sentiment expressed by Kurt Fritts, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s national political director, was typical of the responses HuffPost received: these kinds of ambitious candidates can be found, but it just requires going a little deeper than the higher-profile posts Republicans occupy in a majority of states.
“There’s a lot of talent out there, for sure,” Fritts said. “The idea that the losses have hollowed out any kind of bench, that’s not what I’m seeing.”
Massachusetts Attorney General-Elect Maura Healy was a first-time candidate and a civil rights attorney who won earlier this month — even as her former boss, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, lost. In a blue state like Massachusetts, where Healy was elected the nation’s first openly gay attorney general, she is already being talked about as someone who could run against incoming Gov. Charlie Baker (R) four years from now, or for the Senate further down the road.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who rose from working as an obscure district attorney to the statewide post, is frequently mentioned in discussionsof Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s re-election in 2016. (Former Rep. Joe Sestak [D] has already entered the race). Kane’s decision not to defend Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage last year, as well as her filing of criminal charges against an Exxon Mobil subsidiary, has won her fans among progressives.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has already declared that he’s in the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear next year, and he similarly indicated that he isn’t afraid to prioritize his personal politics when he refused to appeal a ruling that struck down a provision of the state constitution that prohibited it from recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside the state.
The most intriguing match-up is in California, where two rising stars, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, appear to be on a collision course to face off in a Democratic Senate or gubernatorial primary, unless they collude and figure out a solution. There’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s likely retirement in 2018 to consider, as well as the potential retirement of Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016 and Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is rumored to be considering a run against Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in 2016, or against incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in 2018. And New Mexico’s newly elected Attorney General Hector Balderas could succeed popular Gov. Susana Martinez (R) in 2018, when she won’t be able to run again because of term limits.
Georgia state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams was the potential leader named by almost every group and committee spokesperson HuffPost contacted. She demonstrated her commitment to expanding the electorate in the Peach State with her leadership of the New Georgia Project, a voter participation group that sued the state over missing voter registration forms. And she is considered one of the state Democratic Party’s best chances at unseating Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2018, or Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) in 2016.
Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek, who in 2013 became the first out lesbian in U.S. history to lead a state legislative chamber, is mentioned as someone who could run for the seat of Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden or Jeff Merkley when either retires, or for governor when John Kitzhaber steps down.
And President Barack Obama’s state Senate successor Kwame Raoul passed on a gubernatorial bid this year but has said that doesn’t rule out a run at some point in the future. Like Madigan, he could run against Kirk (following Obama’s trajectory from the state Senate to Senate) or against Rauner four years from now.
Mayors And City Officials
Though Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has said that serving in his current position is his “sole priority,” he’s a popular mayor in a state that has two Republican senators and a new GOP governor, so he is expected to face pressure to run for a higher office after his mayoral re-election in 2015.
Georgia state Sen. Jason Carter and nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn were frustrated in their attempts to beat Gov. Nathan Deal (R), and businessman and Sen.-Elect David Perdue (R), respectively. But Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has done bold things like take on pension reform, has hinted he could seek the governorship in 2018.
Add Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti into the California mix of Harris and Newsom: he could run to succeed Brown if Harris and Newsom decide to run for Boxer and Feinstein’s seats, or there could be some other iteration of that lineup in the works.
In a state like Florida, where promising Democratic candidates for statewide office are few and far between, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who leads the national Young Elected Officials Network, could run for a statewide office in 2018.
Ohio Democrats face a similar, if not more devastated, bench problem, given the total wipeout of their candidates for statewide office this year. It’s not inaccurate to say that their future may rest on the shoulders of Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who is widely expected to seek a statewide office in 2018. State Rep. Connie Pillich, who was hurt in her race for Ohio Treasurer by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s drag at the top of the ballot, has indicated that she may give a statewide bid another shot.
City officials like incoming Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers Jr. and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim are both considered prospects.
Incoming Reps. Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Seth Moulton (Mass.), Ruben Gallego(Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Joaquin Castro (Texas), (plus his brotherJulian Castro, the current U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development), have all been mentioned as potential leaders because of their biographies or the political circumstances for Democrats in their states.
Murphy was re-elected in a Republican-leaning district that used to be represented by Allen West. Moulton, a former Marine, gained attention because he actually underplayed the honors he had received for his military service. Gallego has said he hopes to rise eventually to a leadership position in the House Democratic caucus. The Castros appear to represent the best chance for Democrats to win a statewide office in Texas, after Wendy Davis‘ disappointing finish in her gubernatorial bid this year. And Duckworth could be a leading contender against Kirk in 2016.
Those Who Lost Or Were Term-Limited
Outgoing Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden is apparently running for governor in 2016, though he is laying low following a surgery he underwent last year to remove a small lesion from his brain.
And outgoing Colorado state House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who couldn’t run again because of term limits, is the Denver Public Schools’ incoming chief financial officer. Outgoing Michigan state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who famously spoke out in the state legislature about a past sexual assault, remains popular and could run for governor or attorney general in 2018.
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver lost a close race for New Mexico Secretary of State but appears to be passionate enough about issues like voting rights to make another attempt for a higher office. Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who lost her lieutenant governor’s race, said during her concession speech that she would remain active in state politics.
And finally, though Rashida Tlaib lost her bid for Michigan state Senate, the outgoing state representative — who became just the second Muslim woman to serve in any of the nation’s state legislatures — looks like she’ll stay engaged in politics and could run for another office in the future.