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Forget their records. Presidential hopefuls will leverage the Senate to build their brand

David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Senators running for president have instant advantages. They're political stars. They're the darlings of Washington, where dozens of reporters mob them every time they wait for a Capitol elevator or cross a street.

The candidates are welcome guests on friendly talk shows. They can dart in and out of hearings, make unchallenged statements on Twitter about anything they want and then see them go viral.

And most important, "They have the advantage of name ID and an ability to raise money," said Scott Brennan, a Democratic National Committee member from Iowa.

Four U.S. senators -- Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey -- are seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected to announce Sunday whether she's running. Other lawmakers are possibilities.

There are, of course, significant perils. The senators have to defend not only their records, but also constantly risk making the sort of incendiary comment outside those elevators that blows up on social media.

But the road is not as bumpy as it has been through history. Until Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, no incumbent member of Congress had gone directly from Capitol Hill to the White House since John F. Kennedy in 1960.

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Today, lawmakers can have several friendly vehicles where they can perpetually fashion themselves as passionate, likeable, deep-thinking public figures.

Take Gillibrand, for example.

She was a House member from a fairly conservative upstate New York district from 2007 until 2009, when she was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

As a House member, Gillibrand was regarded as sympathetic to gun rights, receiving an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. Since becoming a senator, she's been a strong gun control advocate and the NRA has given her an "F."

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