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Democratic donors push Mark Warner to enter 2020 race as moderate alternative to Warren, Sanders

  • Mark Warner, the Democratic senator from Virginia, is getting pushed by some of the party's biggest financiers to run for president in 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
  • Warner has made it clear that he doesn't feel the "fire in his belly to run at this point," according to a source with knowledge of his thinking.
  • The effort to get the senator into the 2020 race is a signal that some of the party's most powerful donors are looking for a moderate politician as an alternative to more left-leaning candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
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Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

Some of the Democratic Party's biggest financiers are pushing Virginia Sen. Mark Warner to run for president in 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

These private conversations have been on since the start of 2018 but the Virginia lawmaker has declined to commit to making a run for the White House, those sources say.

According to one source with knowledge of his thinking, Warner has made it clear that he doesn't feel the "fire in his belly to run at this point."

But the effort to get the Democrat into the 2020 race is a signal that some of the party's most powerful donors are looking for a moderate politician as an alternative more left-leaning potential candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

"Even the mention of someone like Warner is the sign of the Clinton-era Democrats trying to push the Sanders-Warren wing out the door to avoid a battle in 2020 and to get a nominee that everyone will rally behind. It may work or it may not. It's too early to tell," Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf told CNBC.

A spokeswoman for Warner declined to comment.

Warner known on Capitol Hill as a moderate Democrat 

Warner is known on Capitol Hill as a moderate, particularly when it comes to economic policy. He's a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Senate Finance Committee.

Recently, he was one of 12 Democrats who sponsored the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protect Act, a bill that rolls back Dodd-Frank regulations mainly for community banks with less than $100 billion in assets. It recently passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Donald Trump in May.

In October 2017, he introduced a bill titled the Investing in American Workers Act that allows a business-related tax credit for employers who increase work training expenditures. The credit would only apply to expenditures for the training of non-highly compensated employees. The bill has yet to be called to the floor for a Senate vote.

Warner has been trying to instill his pro-growth economic policies on young Democrats looking to run for public office through the organization he founded The NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders). The network promotes its members as those "championing ideas to grow the economy, expand opportunity for all, and make government work better," the website says.

Not afraid to take on President Trump 

Though no firebrand, Warner has not shied way from joining the fight against the president.

He's the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is continuing to investigate whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election.

He took on Trump by co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation against the administration's import tariffs on U.S. allies Mexico, Canada and the European Union. The bill, also sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, would require the White House to seek congressional approval before issuing tariffs for national security interests.

Warner faced off with the Commerce Department on its decision to lift a ban on conducting business with ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer that was accused of breaking international sanctions on Iran and North Korea in 2017.

However, on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced on CNBC that it had struck a deal with ZTE to end the sanctions.

Donors are looking at his ability to stand up to the Trump administration as a potential platform for him to run on in 2020 on top of his moderate economic views if he were to jump into the race, sources say.

A national Morning Consultant poll of the most popular senators taken in April shows Warner with 49 percent approval and 30 percent disapproval. The poll shows Sanders is still the most popular among Democrats, whom he caucuses with.

Correction: Sen. Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont. An earlier version misstated his political affiliation.

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