Los Angeles' Eric Garcetti, like other Democratic mayors considering the presidential race in 2020, is hoping to show party activists that his experience running a city can preview success on the national scene.
He plans to make his debut in Iowa, an early campaign proving ground, on Friday, talking to union carpenters, seeing representatives from the Asian, Latino and LBGTQ communities and headlining a county party dinner.
Only a handful of presidents ever served as mayors, and they all had won higher offices before reaching the White House. Americans never have elevated a city leader directly to the presidency from city hall, and no sitting mayor has even won a major party's presidential nomination.
Local, state and national politics
That doesn't seem to deter New York's Bill De Blasio and New Orleans' Mitch Landrieu, also mulling 2020 bids. So, too, are Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana, and Julian Castro, housing secretary in the Obama administration and a former San Antonio mayor.
Democrats hold only half of the governorships they did 25 years ago — being governor is a more reliable stepping stone to the White House — and are locked out of power in Congress.
The party's emerging 2020 class is heavy with mayors, who claim a closer connection to their constituents and greater accountability to them than U.S. senators and representatives have.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who challenged Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., may be party stars in Washington. But some Democratic mayors are distinguishing themselves by taking action on national policy that federal lawmakers are unable to influence from the disadvantage of their minority status ion Congress.
"The mayors of some American cities are running cities that are bigger than some countries. We run police departments and deal with public safety. We deal with a plethora of issues, and we're on the ground," Landrieu said. "We're very accountable."
Only 16 Democrats are governors today, and few are signaling a 2020 campaign is on the horizon.
Mayors with national aspirations seem less fazed than their predecessors by the idea that voters are looking for candidates with more national experience. Consider that Donald Trump was a political newcomer before winning in 2016.
Asked whether a mayor can be president, Landrieu said, "I don't see why not."
Landrieu leaves office in New Orleans next month, and he's already ramping up a national book tour promoting his efforts to remove some Confederate monuments in his iconic city.
Garcetti's mission in Iowa is to make it clear to activists that his big-city experience can translate onto the national stage.
He is the executive of a jurisdiction of roughly 4 million people, about a million more than the state of Iowa, heads a police department of 30,000 and oversees the nation's busiest seaport. De Blasio, whose city is more than twice the population of Los Angeles, was the guest at a Democratic-leaning activist group's annual dinner in December.
"It's a more hands-on job which can produce both more tangible results and a greater bond with your constituents," Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said. "At a time when frustration with all things Washington, federal government, is at a peak, and state governments are facing tough budget limitations, mayors start looking pretty good."
Garcetti and others are also stepping forward on national issues such as immigration, a burning concern for Democrats in Iowa angry with the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP governor for enacting legislation last week outlawing "sanctuary cities." That's a term for jurisdictions that limit local involvement in federal immigration enforcement.
Garcetti promotes his opposition to such measures in Los Angeles, among cities that don't assist with federal immigration enforcement, where he has created of a $10-million legal defense fund for immigrants threatened with deportation and defied U.S. Justice Department calls for local police to demonstrate immigration status when no serious crime has been committed.
Landrieu, as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, was vocal among the more than 300 mayors last year who opted for their cities to join an international climate agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from it.