WASHINGTON — Maybe it’s just a sign of how wide open the Democratic field is for 2020, but Hawaii’s senior senator was asked about the possibility of running for president during a National Public Radio interview that aired Tuesday.

Morning Edition host Rachel Martin was talking to Brian Schatz about how Democrats should approach the upcoming 2018 midterm elections in the wake of Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the presidency.

Martin said Schatz’s name has been “bandied about” as a potential candidate.

And while she didn’t directly put Schatz on the spot about it, the senator made clear that he has no plans to seek higher office.

Senator Brian Schatz in Washington DC office4. 19 jan 2017
Sen. Brian Schatz wants to see a larger field of Democratic candidates running for president.. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Instead, he said he’d like to see a wide open Democratic primary process in which voters select the best candidates from a broad spectrum of political backgrounds, unlike in 2016.

“This time I think we need to see eight or 10 of my colleagues in the Senate running, I think we need to see mayors running, I think we need to see governors running,” Schatz said.

“Anybody who thinks that they should lead the country should go ahead and put their hat in the ring. I am not among them, and I want to be unequivocal about that. There are no circumstances. I don’t want to be coy about this.”

Schatz has been raising his profile ever since he was appointed to the Senate in 2012 after the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

He’s become the chamber’s most vocal supporter of policies to address climate change, and most recently introduced a plan to make college debt-free for all students.

But he’s not often discussed in the same breath as some of his colleagues, such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, when it comes to the Senate’s most likely candidates for president.

Schatz isn’t even the most talked about potential candidate in Hawaii. That distinction usually goes to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

“I think we need to see eight or ten of my colleagues in the Senate running, I think we need to see mayors running, I think we need to see governors running.” — Sen Brian Schatz

Geoffrey Skelley is a political analyst with University of Virginia Center for Politics. He said that although Schatz has been getting more notoriety in the press and on social media, he’s pretty far down the list of potential presidential candidates.

Politicians from Hawaii traditionally have a more difficult time nudging their way into that conversation, Skelley said, because they represent a small state far from the mainland.

“Another way of looking at this is to acknowledge that every Democrat under the sun is looking at possibly running in 2020 against President Trump,” Skelley said. “That’s mainly because a lot of Democrats think Trump is going to be very vulnerable in 2020, and also because, in general, the left is very animated and energized to oppose Trump.”

In the NPR interview, Schatz talked about what it will take for Democrats to win in 2018 and beyond.

He said it’s important for candidates to show some conviction. He mentioned Trump’s proposed travel ban that targeted Muslim-majority countries, a maneuver that led to widespread protests and legal challenges, including from Hawaii.

Schatz said a number of strategists and pollsters have told senators, including him, to be careful about pushing back against it because it polled reasonably well.

“What we told them is, first of all, this is a matter of conscience, and second of all, you are the people who just lost the election with us,” Schatz said.

He then pointed to polls that now show a majority of Americans are opposed to the travel ban.

“Nothing is a given,” Schatz said. “I think that we walked into that last election cycle — and so did the media and so did many of the voters — thinking to ourselves that it was virtually impossible that Donald Trump would be president.

“Now he’s got the power of the presidency, the power of incumbency and I think we would be extremely unwise to walk into this cocky. We can be confident. We can be motivated. We can be organized. But you have to run through the tape.”

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