UPDATE (8:25 a.m. PT) — Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced early Tuesday morning that he is abandoning his presidential hopes in 2020 and will instead run for re-election.
"My best contribution is to run for re-election and do everything I can to help the Senate be a full partner in addressing the problems before us," Merkley said in a 4-minute video.
The Democrat, first elected to his office in 2008, has been openly exploring a presidential candidacy for the last year and a half. He’s made several visits to Iowa and New Hampshire and other early primary states while presenting himself as a progressive with “bold” policies who remains true to his blue-collar roots.
Throughout this, one of his major dilemmas is that the wide-open Democratic primary is occurring as his senatorial term is running out.
He discussed the possibility of seeking a change in Oregon election law to run for both offices simultaneously, something that is allowed in several states. But he said he gave up on that idea after it got a negative reaction from leaders in the Senate.
Merkley still had the opportunity to run in the early primaries that take place before Oregon’s March 10, 2020 filing deadline. But keeping both options open would have raised its own complications.
The 62-year-old senator told OPB earlier this year that he was also concerned about being financially competitive in a Democratic race.
"The underlying thing that I’ve been wrestling with are what are the big battles worth fighting and how can I be most effective in contributing to the effort, so I’ll be on the battlefield, but I’ll be on the Senate battlefield," Merkley said.
At least one billionaire, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had been thinking of getting in the race and several others have large national followings that give them the ability to quickly raise millions of dollars.
For example, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – who Merkley endorsed in 2016 – reported raising $6 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his latest run for president last month. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also have strong national fundraising bases.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced his own candidacy last week, is already benefitting from an ad campaign financed by supporters who formed a super-PAC allowing them to raise donations of any size. Several Democratic activists have called on Inslee to push the super-PAC – which is required to operate independently of his campaign – to shut down.
In his video, Merkley talked about growing up in a working-class home, being the first in his family to go to college — and how he still lives in a blue-collar neighborhood in east Portland.
He also talked about the three challenges he says the country needs to tackle: battling climate change, protecting the right to vote and the country’s other democratic institutions, and rebuilding an economy that allows for widespread prosperity.
"I do admire many of the people who are running," Merkley said. "There’s a lot of talent on the field. I really hope to do whatever I can to get them to take on and have a strong strategy on these three big challenges I’ve laid out and perhaps I’ll endorse but that’ll be much later in the process."