The last city mayor who ran for President and might have had a real shot was Republican Rudy Giuliani back in 2008. Of course, Giuliani was known as “America’s Mayor” after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on his city of New York. Giuliani had his baggage at the time, and was a tad too liberal on social policies for most conservatives, but he was seen as a contender and made it into the Republican primary for a few states before dropping out. Mayors typically don’t fair well in Presidential races, but in 2020, the political grounds might be shifting for Democrats. Having lost a number of key Democratic Governorships over the past decade, the deep bench of high profile mayors might provide a stepping stone from City Hall to the White House if one of them connects with voters.
This report from the Associated Press (via KWWL) offers some background on the popular Democratic mayors laying the groundwork for a 2020 run:
Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti, like other Democratic mayors considering the presidential race in 2020, is hoping to show party activists that his experience running a city can preview success on the national scene.
He planned to make his debut in Iowa, an early campaign proving ground, on Friday, talking to union carpenters, seeing representatives from the Asian, Latino and LBGTQ communities and headlining a county party dinner.
Only a handful of presidents ever served as mayors, and they all had won higher offices before reaching the White House. Americans never have elevated a city leader directly to the presidency from city hall, and no sitting mayor has even won a major party’s presidential nomination.
That doesn’t seem to deter New York’s Bill De Blasio and New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu, also mulling 2020 bids. So, too, are Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana, and Julian Castro, housing secretary in the Obama administration and a former San Antonio mayor.
Democrats hold only half of the governorships they did 25 years ago – being governor is a more reliable stepping stone to the White House – and are locked out of power in Congress.
The party’s emerging 2020 class is heavy with mayors, who claim a closer connection to their constituents and greater accountability to them than senators and representatives.
Governors often get elevated to a higher stature than mayors, but consider the fact that most of these Democratic mayors provide executive leadership to cities that have larger populations than many states. When Bill Clinton became President, Arkansas had a population of just 2.4 million people in 1992. Compare that to the City of Los Angeles today which has almost 4 million. Of course, Los Angeles pales to New York City which boasts 8.5 million residents.
“The mayors of some American cities are running cities that are bigger than some countries. We run police departments and deal with public safety. We deal with a plethora of issues, and we’re on the ground,” Landrieu said. “We’re very accountable.”
Only 16 Democrats are governors today, and few are signaling a 2020 campaign is on the horizon.
Mayors with national aspirations seem less fazed than their predecessors by the idea that voters are looking for candidates with more national experience. Consider that Donald Trump was a political newcomer before winning in 2016.
Asked whether a mayor can be president, Landrieu said, “I don’t see why not.”
By comparison, especially in number of constituents being served, it would seem that a mayor would have many of the same qualifications as a governor in terms of executive leadership. Sure, mayors can’t control the National Guard directly, but they do deal with natural disasters and are often on the forefront of national policy. Furthermore, as the article states, some big city mayors command police forces which are larger than the standing armies of most countries.
Plus, as a major positive among Democratic voters, these mayors have been on the cutting edge of opposing the Trump administration at almost every turn:
Garcetti promotes his opposition to such measures in Los Angeles, among cities that don’t assist with federal immigration enforcement, where he has created of a $10-million legal defense fund for immigrants threatened with deportation and defied U.S. Justice Department calls for local police to demonstrate immigration status when no serious crime has been committed.
Landrieu, as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, was vocal among the more than 300 mayors last year who opted for their cities to join an international climate agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from it.
In 2020, we will see a Democratic field that has an unusually large number of mayors launching campaigns, and there’s no reason to believe they have any less of a shot than a governor or a senator, especially in the age of Trump.