Oprah's not alone: 16 potential Democratic 2020 candidates ask for advice

Former Obama Campaign Manager thinks it’s all about the economy.

ByABC News
January 17, 2018, 3:52 PM

— -- Democratic operative Jim Messina, who headed up former President Obama’s successful 2012 re-election campaign, says he has met with representatives of 16 potential Democratic candidates who want to run against President Donald Trump. But he told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" co-host Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, even more people want to throw their hat in the ring.

“The good news for Democrats is there are 24 people thinking they could run for president. That’s a historic bench.”

And he’s excited about the Oprah Winfrey buzz.

“There’s a whole bunch of people trying to encourage her to run.”

Messina was coy with the co-host, ABC News' Political Director Rick Klein, about specific candidates, but not about the questions he asks.

“I ask them two questions. Number one, do you want to put your family through hell? And number two, what is your vision for the future?”

Messina runs a strategic consulting group that advises political candidates and businesses here in the U.S. and all over the world.

Messina admits he is obsessed with voters that voted for Obama and then Trump. His group just finished a long-term study analyzing those voters in battleground states. And he’s found a similar theme to the mantra Bill Clinton’s adviser James Carville coined in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

“The economy is the driver of almost every one of those votes. They [Obama and Trump voters] care about that more than anything else. And their biggest worry is the president’s tweets. And his ongoing back and forth. They think it distracts him from the kind of economic focus they want. Voters want an economic focus.”

And Messina would get some late-night phone calls when he was running Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

“I got a call every 2-3 weeks in the middle of the night from this incredibly brilliant political operative named, Bill Clinton. And President Clinton would say to me in his creative voice, ‘Jim, the only thing that matters is winning the economic argument about the future.’ And that is really true with these voters.”

But with the strong economy and the stock market at an all-time high, wouldn’t that bode well for President Trump and spell trouble for Democrats?

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Va.
President Donald Trump speaks during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Va.

“I think Trump is a different case because he’s so divisive. Because he’s shown the inability to stick to his own message and talk about what he’s doing.”

And Democrats need to win over independent voters. Despite a favorable map for Republicans, Messina thinks the large number of over 30 House Republicans not running for re-election means a chance for Democrats when there’s no incumbent.

“These retirements really, really matter.”

And keep your eye on the state governor races. Messina points to the Democratic victory in Virginia of Ralph Northam and feels good about Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida. But he cautions, “We’re Democrats, so we usually find a way to blow it. Certainly that was true in the last presidential election.”

But he does give Trump credit for his latest move of cancelling his trip to the United Kingdom, where he would have met with historic protests, according to Messina who is consulting Britain’s Conservative Party.

“President Trump has become the most divisive figure in the world.”

“His domination in the media coverage here is true around the world as well. The week before the general election in the U.K. last year, President Trump was discussed on social media more than the two major candidates the week before their national election.”

And Messina says there’s only one other place where Trump is more unpopular than London.

“President Trump is about as popular in Mexico as charging more for beer," he said.

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