As Hillary Clinton considers her choices for vice president, she’s seriously weighing the potential negative impact her decision could have on Democratic efforts to retake control of the Senate, according to party members familiar with her thinking.
She’s also said to be worried about how her pick could affect congressional elections in 2018, at the midpoint of her presidency should she win the White House. Her political calculus underscores how closely linked she believes her success as president would be to having her party in power on Capitol Hill.
Clinton’s concerns center on senators whose seats would be filled by a Republican governor if they move into the White House — including Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Examined by Clinton’s vetting team in an early stage of the vice presidential process, it’s unclear whether they have been moved onto her short list.
The Democrats familiar with Clinton’s thinking all spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to publicly discuss her search for a running mate.
Clinton’s team is moving through the selection process quickly. Lawyers have already requested documents and questionnaire replies from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro of Texas. Interviews with Clinton will be scheduled for early next month.
Top Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who will succeed the retiring Reid next year, and Sen. Jon Tester, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have expressed concerns about Clinton’s vice presidential pick complicating their efforts to retake the majority.
Democrats need to gain four seats in November to win control of the chamber if Clinton is president.
“If we have a Republican governor in any of those states, the answer is not only no, but hell no,” Reid said last month. “I would do whatever I can, and I think most of my Democratic colleagues would say the same thing.”
For Reid, there’s one exception: Warren. Reid and other Democrats have been reviewing Massachusetts rules for filing a Senate vacancy and are confident there are ways to speed up a special election they believe would return a Democrat to the seat before the next president takes office, despite GOP governor Charlie Baker’s power to tap a temporary replacement.
Reid is actively pushing Clinton to tap the leading Senate progressive, who vigorously spoke up for her as they campaigned together in Cincinnati on Monday. He’s argued against picking Booker or Brown because of concerns about Senate control, according to Democratic officials.
Both Booker and Brown have been active supporters of Clinton, frequently delivering impassioned introductions at events. But former Republican presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, would appoint their successors.
“I’m a big Sherrod Brown fan,” Tester recently told Public Radio International. “It has a Republican governor in the state of Ohio, so it probably wouldn’t be good for the body, but I think he’d bring a nice mix to the ticket.”
Clinton has made rebuilding state Democratic parties, which have languished under President Barack Obama, a key theme of her presidential run.
“It’s not about me, it’s about us,” she told a meeting of House Democrats last week, stressing her focus on electing Democrats up and down the ticket.
Democrats have a narrow but plausible path for retaking the Senate in November. Several seats are being contested in Democratic-leaning states, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Democrats are also hoping that if Clinton carries battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire, the party could pick up Senate seats there as well.
But a Democratic takeover of the Senate in November could be short-lived, deepening Clinton’s concerns about putting a safe seat in jeopardy. The election landscape for Senate Democrats in 2018 is grim, with their seats open in several Republican-leaning states.
Campaign aides say Clinton is getting plenty of not-so-subtle suggestions from Democratic allies, donors and friends.
“Whoever she picks is going to be the right person for her,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, an early Clinton backer. “But I’d pick somebody under 50. It’s time for a new generation to take power in Washington, especially in the Democratic Party.”
But Clinton is skeptical of playing the role of party kingmaker, say people familiar with her thinking. She worries that by picking a younger running mate, she might appear to be selecting her successor — a responsibility she believes should rest with the next generation of Democrats.
Clinton aides, who refused to comment on specific candidates under consideration, have hinted that she may be considering a far broader group that may include some non-traditional choices, including business leaders or even Republicans.
“The list is probably bigger than people think,” said chief campaign strategist Joel Benenson on MSNBC recently. “It’s the first important choice the nominee has to make and it’s up to Hillary Clinton.”
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
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