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Expanding the map: 2020 Dems push past early voting states

February 22, 2019
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Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., greets students at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The sprawling field of Democratic presidential hopefuls is on the move — to places other than the traditional early voting states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has hopscotched from Puerto Rico to Georgia, where she met with rising Democratic star Stacey Abrams. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in rural Wisconsin after announcing her candidacy last week and spent Friday in Georgia, where she’s meeting with Abrams and former President Jimmy Carter. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is concluding a two-day trip to Texas, where she toured a historically black college and an all-girls school. And former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is touching down in Idaho and Utah next week.

The flurry of activity shows how the 2020 field hopes to demonstrate appeal outside the four traditional early voting states and in parts of the country where Democrats have struggled. Polls show Democrats are eager for a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump, and some 2020 contenders hope to distinguish themselves from Hillary Clinton, whose 2016 campaign was criticized for not appealing to a wide enough swath of the country.

“We’re starting in Wisconsin because, as you remember, there wasn’t a lot of campaigning in Wisconsin in 2016. With me, that changes,” Klobuchar told reporters the day of her campaign launch, noting her mother grew up in the state. “I’m going to be there a lot.”

Josh Putnam, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington who tracks the presidential nominating process, said he expects more Democratic hopefuls to venture outside the familiar confines of early states, especially because a slew of states, including Texas and California, are scheduled to vote shortly after the initial four.

“Over time we’ve seen a gradual nationalization of the process — not as Iowa goes so goes everyone else, but as everyone else goes, so goes Iowa,” Putnam said.

Still, the political map will likely shrink as the early state primaries and caucuses loom larger later this year.

“In the early days, you’ve got time to go to a lot of different states,” said Bob Shrum, a veteran of numerous Democratic presidential campaigns. “As you get into the fall you spend more and more of your time in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

The 2020 Democrats are still making plenty of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, but some are trying to emphasize the wider map. Castro was one of the earliest to announce. His first trip outside his home state of Texas was to Puerto Rico, a place filled with symbolism for the man trying to become the first Latino major party presidential nominee and for Democrats as a whole because of the Trump administration’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Castro has since promised to travel to all 50 states.

“More states than ever will be in play this year because it’s going to be a more fractured race,” Castro said in a phone interview Friday from Iowa before his western swing. “I’m going to, I believe, get a leg up in those states. Because people don’t visit, it’s smart to go in and make a great impression. I’m confident that’s going to pay dividends when it’s time for them to vote.”

Castro noted that he has a simpler itinerary than the bevy of senators who are running, who must spend their work weeks predominantly in Washington. But even those senators are branching out.

Warren traveled to Puerto Rico last month and slammed Trump during a speech in San Juan. She held a rally in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville last week and later had dinner with Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid for Georgia governor in November and delivered the party’s rebuttal to Trump’s State of the Union this year.

She spoke to reporters after the rally about Democratic hopes that Georgia turns blue in 2020.

“Georgia’s like every place else in the country,” Warren said. “This is a real question about what our values are and how we feel government should work. Washington’s working great for the giant drug companies. It’s not working for people in Georgia who are trying to get a prescription filled.”

On Friday, Klobuchar, too, was scheduled to meet with Abrams, as well as with Carter, and participate in a roundtable on voting rights. The state has moved toward Democrats as the population around Atlanta swells. Democrats picked up one House seat and 13 state legislative seats in November despite losing statewide races.

Shrum said he wouldn’t be surprised if candidates step up their early travel there. “Georgia is the state that could become blue sooner than the others,” he said.

Atlanta is already a staple on the Democratic fundraising circuit — Klobuchar held one after her events Friday. Gillibrand held a fundraiser during her Texas trip, too, but she also made a point of stopping at two institutions vital to the Democratic base in another big southern state the party hopes to flip. She met with students at Paul Quinn College, a historically black college in Dallas, and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, which educates grades 6-12.

Gillibrand’s aides said they hope the trip highlighted how the New York senator can win votes in Texas.

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Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago and Elana Schor and Juana Summers in Washington contributed to this report.

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