The Top 17 Dem 2020 Moments of 2017

It was a big year for potential presidential contenders.

Former Vice President Joe Biden takes a selfie with a student after delivering remarks regarding sexual violence on college campuses during a visit to Rutgers University on Oct. 12 in New Brunswick, N.J.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Hanna Trudo
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Hanna Trudo
Dec. 31, 2017, 8 a.m.

Planes, PACs, and podcasts—it was an ambitious year for national Democrats. From ideological purity tests to battleground pit stops, National Journal has identified some of the top moments and movements that Democrats faced—and embraced—during President Trump’s first year in office. Here are our 17 2020 moments of 2017, in alphabetical order.

1. Bernie Sanders sparks a debate.

The senator from Vermont and 2016 nomination runner-up ignited a party-wide debate after introducing universal “Medicare for all” health care legislation, which quickly became an ideological purity test. One-third of the Senate Democratic caucus ultimately supported the bill, including nearly all of those thought to be eyeing 2020. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another potential national candidate, was notably absent from the pile-on.

2. California moves its primary.

Angling to have a bigger say in the Democratic primary process, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that moved the state’s election date ahead by three months. The primary, now set for March 2020—just after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—will likely create a new jockeying space for Democrats.

3. Cory Booker stumps for Doug Jones.

His Birmingham rally for the now senator-elect illustrated the prominent Democrat’s ability to help generate excitement among African-Americans in a red state. Jones’s victory over Republican Roy Moore fortified Booker’s position in the party and gave him a strong talking point ahead of a potential presidential campaign.

4. Dems take up pens and podcasts.

As Trump’s messaging battle slogs on, Democrats have test-run several ways to get their counterpoints across. Op-eds and podcasts emerged as favorite forums by politicians seeking a broad audience. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders, along with other Democrats such as former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, launched podcasts this year, while others took to glossy women’s magazines to grab a key voting bloc’s attention.

5. DNC purges key officials.

The Democratic National Committee’s Las Vegas meeting shocked observers when several longtime party officials were ousted from top leadership slots. The shakeup prompted speculation that Chairman Tom Perez dismissed Sanders loyalists who backed Rep. Keith Ellison during the chairman race. Perez insisted that the move was meant to diversify the DNC. Still, the purge exposed ongoing tension between the progressive and mainstream wings of the party.

6. Elizabeth Warren persists.

Warren was early in turning the nation’s attention toward the frustrations that women face in the workplace, showcased by an exchange with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” McConnell said in reference to the senator reading the words of Coretta Scott King to question Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s civil-rights track record during his confirmation hearing. The phrase quickly caught on in progressive circles.

7. First candidate enters the race.

In late July, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland became the first and, to date, only Democrat to launch a challenge to Trump. The former businessman, who also announced that he won’t seek reelection in 2018, has established field posts in Iowa and New Hampshire and has canvassed other election hotbeds. While running as a former House member will make him a long-shot contender, Delaney hopes that his private-sector experience and campaign transparency can help defeat Trump.

8. Iowa draws in Dems.

The Polk County Steak Fry fired up Democrats who showed up to see House members headline the Iowa event known to precede presidential campaigns. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio generated buzz for touting progressive economic issues in the culturally conservative Hawkeye State, which nearly a dozen possible presidential contenders visited this year.

9. Biden racks up miles.

Along with a memorable appearance on The View, Biden touched down in several early-voting and battleground states, including New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Minnesota, promoting his new book, Promise Me, Dad. While he is already recognizable, Biden doubled down on face time by campaigning on behalf of Democratic candidates and reengaging with voters in a slew of other states.

10. Kamala Harris hits the Hamptons.

The freshman senator from California made the headlines in mid-July by attending fundraisers with wealthy Clinton World donors in the Hamptons. While the news led to some negative reactions from progressives, overall it served as a bright signal that Harris’s national ambitions could lead to a presidential campaign sooner rather than later.

11. Kirsten Gillibrand takes on Trump.

Gillibrand’s national prominence only increased after Trump launched a Twitter attack against her in December. The first to urge him to resign, she has consistently challenged the president by voting against nearly all of his appointees and leading on issues that disproportionately affect women, particularly sexual harassment.

12. Leaders sound resignation alarms.

Democrats urged both Republicans and various members of their own party to retreat from public office. Sen. Al Franken pledged to resign after more than two dozen Democrats called for his exit following allegations of sexual harassment, while top Democrats, including Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, and Sanders, later called on Trump to step down after claims of his own sexual misconduct resurfaced.

13. Mayors go mainstream.

Democrats swept mayoral races in big cities this year. From Atlanta to Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, New York City, and Seattle, cities’ chief executives got a lot of buzz. One particularly hyped leader is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who got noticed after shooting down the possibility of a statewide bid in California. Garcetti has spent time across the country, and with a newly launched innovation group, he’ll have plenty to keep him busy ahead of 2020.

14. New Hampshire boasts a busy off-year.

Biden, Sanders, and a herd of lesser-known leaders flocked to the first-in-the-nation primary state in 2017. Almost always officially to endorse local Democrats (like newly elected Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who served as a rallying point for leaders), many prospective presidential candidates showed early interest in the state where Democrats recently flipped a few state legislative seats in special elections.

15. Political action committees pop up everywhere.

It seems nearly every ambitious Democrat launched or retooled their political action committees. From Biden’s “American Possibilities” and O’Malley’s “Win Back Your State” to Kander’s “Let America Vote,” tons of top leaders are seizing opportunities to contribute to Democratic causes and candidates. And some, like Moulton’s “Serve America,” could come in handy for future political pursuits, with seasoned former campaign officials on staff to advise on any major moves.

16. Superdelegates take center stage.

The DNC’s Unity Reform Commission recommended in December cutting the number of superdelegates allowed in the 2020 presidential convention by 60 percent. The move is an attempt to streamline the nominating process that caused party tension between Clinton and Sanders loyalists in 2016. The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will now have six months to amend or push forward the reforms.

17. Women marched on Washington.

It was nearly a year ago now, but Harris and Gillibrand were among the dozens who took the stage to address the mass of women and men who marched on the National Mall one day after Trump’s inauguration. It was a breakout performance for Harris, who was sworn in just a couple of weeks earlier, and for Gillibrand it was the start of a starring role in a significant year for women.

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