In this May 20, 2018, photo, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams participates in a debate against Stacey Evans in Atlanta. In Georgia,...
John Amis

As Abrams passes on Senate race, a Democratic problem becomes clear

Updated

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was not subtle in his recruitment efforts of Georgia’s Stacey Abrams (D). The Democratic leader called, cajoled, reminded, pressured, and practically begged Abrams to take on Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) in 2020, not only because Schumer thought she could win, but also because her prospective victory could make the difference between a Democratic-led Senate and a Republican-led chamber.

Schumer’s hard sell, however, couldn’t quite win Abrams over.

Stacey Abrams said Tuesday that she won’t run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 but left open the possibility she could launch a presidential campaign.

The decision not to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue follows months of speculation about the Democrat’s next political step after her narrow loss in last year’s race for governor.

“I’ve been deeply honored by so many fellow Georgians asking me to serve,” she said in an interview. “But my responsibility is not simply to run because the job is available. I need to run because I want to do the job.”

In her new video, which is about two-and-a-half minutes long, the Georgia Democrat didn’t say exactly what she intends to do next, but Abrams has made clear in recent months she intends to run for something. The conventional wisdom was that she’d launch a Senate campaign, another gubernatorial campaign, or a presidential bid. As of this morning, one of those three doors now appears closed.

And while Abrams’ party looks elsewhere for a Senate candidate – she reiterated this morning she’s eager to help flip the seat – her decision points to a related problem for Democrats in the 2020 cycle: their Senate recruiting is off to an awkward start.

In Texas, for example, Democratic leaders were desperate to see former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) take on Sen. John Cornyn (R) next year. O’Rourke decided instead to run for president.

In Montana, Dems hoped Gov. Steve Bullock (D) would launch a campaign against Sen. Steve Daines (R), but Bullock is also eyeing a White House campaign.

In Colorado, Democrats were optimistic Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) could defeat Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in 2020, but the governor also launched a presidential campaign.

Now in Georgia, Dems tried to recruit Stacey Abrams to run for the Senate, but she has other plans (which may or may not involve a national race).

None of this is intended as criticism. Those who don’t want to be a senator shouldn’t run for the Senate. My point isn’t that folks like Abrams, Bullock, Hickenlooper, and O’Rourke should “take one for the team,” sacrifice their ambitions, and seek a position they have no interest in.

But the fact remains that while the race for the Democrats’ presidential nomination is important, power on Capitol Hill matters, too. Even if Dems back a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump next year, if Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader, no progressive legislation will become law. Period. Full stop.

Guy Cecil, the former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told the New York Times last month, “This isn’t a bad map like 2018 because we have very few seats to defend. But the opportunities to pick up seats are limited, and we need the best candidates possible to win the majority. It’s critical that some of the long shots in the presidential primary consider the Senate this year.”

At least for now, that’s sound advice, which in some states, is going unheeded.