BROWN: Gutierrez for president? You heard it here first

Flanked by his wife Soraida, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) announces he will retire from Congress at the end of his current term during a press conference on November 28, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez is planning to lay the groundwork for a run for president in 2020.

Gutierrez never came right out and said that Tuesday during a 53-minute press conference explaining his surprise decision to leave Congress at the end of this term and anoint Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to replace him.

But everything Gutierrez did say pointed in that direction.

I realize that will strike many of you as crazy talk. I don’t think I would have taken it seriously before Tuesday.

OPINION

But what Gutierrez seemed to be mapping out was the type of campaign that could be used to hold the Democratic Party accountable for its commitments to the nation’s immigrant and Latino communities, instead of what he sees as a party that abandons them when it becomes inconvenient.

It wouldn’t be the kind of campaign where he’s trying to win the nomination so much as a campaign to collect delegates and carry the cause of the immigrant community to the convention.

For a comparison, think of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s groundbreaking presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, when he energized black voters and used that as leverage to gain power within the party.

What Gutierrez did say Tuesday is that rather than retire he’s going to travel the country meeting with immigration groups to build a “party infrastructure that’s going to make sure we’re ready to win in 2020.”

“I’m going to have conversations and dialogues. You’ve heard this before,” Gutierrez said.

Yes, we’ve heard that kind of talk before from people wanting to run for president.

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“There are enough people we could make citizens in the state of Wisconsin that we could turn that state around. We could do the same thing in Michigan,” Gutierrez said.

“I suspect there will be 250,000 more Puerto Ricans in the state of Florida come the next elections,” he noted. “I can assure you we are going to spend some time in Florida.”

Gutierrez may not follow through on a campaign after he gets a taste of a more relaxed lifestyle outside Congress. It’s also possible he’ll lay the groundwork and then pass the baton to somebody who is less a lightning rod.

But Gutierrez could cause a lot of trouble for the Democratic Party between now and then if they don’t take seriously the voters who consider him a champion of their cause.

All of this presumes Congress doesn’t pass comprehensive immigration reform, which seems an increasingly safe bet during a Donald Trump presidency.

Notably, some of Gutierrez’s harshest remarks Tuesday were aimed not at Trump, his usual target, but at his party’s leaders in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, for selling out young immigrants in a misguided deal with Trump.

Gutierrez also said he will continue to devote a large amount of his time and energy toward rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Don’t forget Puerto Rico has its own presidential primary.

I never got a hint while traveling with Gutierrez last month to cover hurricane relief efforts that he was ready to hang it up. He seemed totally engaged in both the issues and the politics.

In hindsight, though, I don’t think the sudden nature of his announcement is all that unusual.

Using the lessons he’s learned from studying the Irish politicians who have long ruled this city, he picked his successor and waited to reveal his decision until it was too late for anybody else to mount a serious challenge.

I expect Garcia will win easily based off the goodwill of his losing campaign for mayor.

During his news conference, Gutierrez ruled out running for mayor of Chicago or governor of Illinois. He even ruled out running for governor of Puerto Rico, which I had considered a real possibility.

I waited around afterward with a small group of reporters to ask one more question.

Are you ruling out running for president?

“I’m not,” Gutierrez said. And then he left.

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