The Note: 'Betomania' casts shadow over 2020 field

PHOTO: Rep. Beto ORourke, the 2018 Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, makes his concession speech at his election night party, Nov. 6, 2018, in El Paso, Texas.PlayEric Gay/AP
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"Betomania" didn't end with a campaign that fell short. It may be as potent a force as ever.

Somehow, a retiring House member who just lost a Senate race is among the biggest names in an enormous field of potential 2020 Democratic candidates.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, is overshadowing a deep bench of contenders without making an Iowa or a New Hampshire trip, or any real step toward launching a presidential candidacy.

Consider how his every conversation with a prominent Democrat qualifies as news, as does any utterance from a donor praising his campaign tone. A MoveOn.org straw poll released this week had O'Rourke as the informal favorite among progressives, edging out former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders and placing him well ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

When former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced his presidential exploratory committee Wednesday, it was lost on few that one of the first questions he had to answer was about his fellow Texan's prospects. O'Rourke surely won't have to post any job openings to attract top staffers.

It puts this potential candidate in the enviable position -- for now -- of being able to dictate his own timeline. But it's also a reminder to all comers than even the widest of fields can seem narrow when big names get bigger.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day ups-and-downs of investigations, indictments and sentencings of the president's former associates.

Wednesday, however, the court laid out, in black and white, a galling, big-picture takeaway for voters.

According to court documents, not only has the president's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen admitted to making payments to squash a negative story in the final weeks of the 2016 election -- an act prosecutors said was blatantly illegal -- but tabloid publisher America Media, Inc., another party in the transaction, has too.

AMI acknowledged to federal prosecutors, as signed in a court document, that it made a payment "in cooperation ... and at the request and suggestion of one or more members or agents of a candidate's 2016 presidential campaign to ensure that a woman did not publicize damaging allegations about that candidate before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election."

What's more, the documents from the court revealed AMI knew it was subject to federal campaign finance laws and that expenditures of this nature, with this intent, are unlawful.

Campaign finance violations can sound passé, vague or immaterial, but these violations at their core paint a poignant and powerful attempt to defraud and deceive voters, ask fundamental questions about what the voters deserve to know and who gets to decide.

PHOTO: David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer, addresses attendees at Party in New York, Aug. 21, 2018. Marion Curtis/AP
David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer, addresses attendees at Party in New York, Aug. 21, 2018.

The TIP with John Verhovek

What to do when you've never run a political campaign before and need to staff up in key states ahead of 2020? Put out a call for staffers on LinkedIn, of course.

The move by hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist Tom Steyer to anonymously, yet publicly, post for the positions received some ribbing in online political circles Wednesday, particularly among those undoubtedly aware that several leading potential candidates have been putting out feelers for staff in Iowa, New Hampshire and the like for months.

Though a spokesperson for Steyer said that "discussions with potential staff are preliminary" and he "has not made a final decision" on a run, those scoffing behind their Twitter accounts may want to consider how quickly he'll be able to catch up. With an estimated net worth north of $1 billion, Steyer would be able to build a larger staff and feature his message on more screens across early-voting states than any other rumored candidate, save billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Not to mention that it wasn't even three years ago that another billionaire with a widely questioned political operation did pretty well for himself in the primaries.

PHOTO: Hedge fund billionaire, Democratic mega-donor, and environmentalist Tom Steyer holds a news conference regarding his political future and plans Jan. 8, 2018, in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE
Hedge fund billionaire, Democratic mega-donor, and environmentalist Tom Steyer holds a news conference regarding his political future and plans Jan. 8, 2018, in Washington, DC.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Aaron Katersky, who breaks down the sentencing of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen. Then, ABC News' Mariam Khan explains legislation aimed at pushing back against Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamaal Khashoggi. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Donald Trump meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 11:45 a.m. and governors-elect at 2 p.m. at the White House. He and first lady Melania Trump will attend Christmas receptions at 5:15 and 8:30 p.m.
  • National security adviser John Bolton is set to unveil the Trump administration's policy strategy for Africa at a 9:30 a.m. Heritage Foundation event.
  • Accused Russian spy Maria Butina is expected to appear at a 10:30 a.m. plea hearing at the U.S. District Court in Washington.
  • Sen. Jeff Flake delivers his farewell address on the Senate floor at 11 a.m.
  • Sen. Ben Cardin, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivers remarks at a 9 a.m. Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion on the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • The Congressional Budget Office releases the latest edition of its "Options for Reducing the Deficit" report at 2 p.m.
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