CONCORD, N.H. – Michael Avenatti’s abrupt announcement Tuesday that he’s taking himself out of the hunt for the White House followed a string of personal and professional controversies – but perhaps more importantly, they came as he was already struggling to connect during visits to early-voting primary states.
“After consultation with my family and at their request, I have decided not to seek the Presidency of the United States in 2020. I do not make this decision lightly—I make it out of respect for my family,” the high-octane Los Angeles-based attorney said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Avenatti – who called for fighting fire with fire to take on President Trump – emphasized he’s worried Democrats will nominate a presidential candidate in 2020 who “has no chance of beating Donald Trump.”
And he vowed, in a statement to Fox News, that “I will remain active because I am deeply concerned about the need for a winner.”
But even before his announcement, Aventatti’s potential campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination appeared to be fizzling for a variety of reasons.
In New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary, some politicos made clear they were highly skeptical of his water-testing visits.
“I think in New Hampshire we’re a pretty discriminating audience, and your personal and professional life kind of have to be in order – and it seemed like that started to unravel with him a little bit,” Granite State-based attorney and Democratic activist Jay Surdukowski said.
Avenatti grabbed the national spotlight while representing adult actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against the president over a non-disclosure agreement she signed before the 2016 presidential election regarding alleged sexual encounters with Trump. Avenatti became a household name to many, thanks to his very frequent guest appearances on CNN and MSNBC where he repeatedly lambasted the president.
And his trips in August to Iowa and New Hampshire grabbed plenty of coverage from the national media as he mulled a Democratic nomination bid.
As he took aim at Trump, his message to other potential Democratic White House hopefuls was that the 2020 “election is going to be a brutal, knockdown, street fight, and if someone’s not up for that type of campaign, they need to stay home and not seek the nomination.”
He received loud applause from the hundreds of activists who traveled to rural Greenfield, N.H., in August to listen to Avenatti headline the Hillsborough County summer picnic and fundraiser. His appearance turned what could have been a sleepy gathering into a high-profile and lucrative event.
Longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley personally drove a couple of hours to Boston’s Logan Airport to pick up Avenatti and bring him to the party gathering.
“I think early on Avenatti was very intriguing to a lot of folks because he made sort of a natural foil to the president,” said Surdukowski, who was New Hampshire co-chairman for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“He was sort of unabashed in kind of going after Trump on Twitter. This whole ‘basta,’ enough, this sort of rallying cry. I think he had that kind of spark,” he added.
But his second visit to New Hampshire in late September, when Avenatti headlined a Plymouth Area Democrats get-out-the-vote rally and fundraiser, appeared to elicit a more low-key response and garnered less national media coverage.
In his final stop in New Hampshire – in late October – his only public event was a meet-and-greet with about a dozen young party activists and volunteers at the Rockingham County Democrats headquarters in Exeter.
By then, distractions off the campaign trail may have started to catch up with Avenatti.
While he was in New Hampshire, a judge in California ordered Avenatti to pay $4.85 million to an attorney who worked at his former law firm. The ruling held Avenatti personally liable in a lawsuit over back pay.
“We are going to appeal it,” he vowed. “I think the judgment’s going to be thrown out. There are some significant problems with the judgment.”
There was also a chorus of criticism by fellow Democrats over his personal involvement in the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Jumping in near the end of the confirmation process, Avenatti lobbed explosive allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh as he represented one of the nominee’s accusers. Some critics said Avenatti’s strategy backfired and actually helped feed the perception by Republicans that Kavanaugh was being unfairly attacked.
Since the midterm election, Avenatti’s had to deal with two more controversies.
Last month, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence against his now-former girlfriend. The Los Angeles district attorney declined to charge him with a felony. But the case was moved to the office of the city attorney, which is mulling misdemeanor charges.
Avenatti maintained he has “never struck a woman” and predicted he would be “fully exonerated.”
Further, he appeared to have a spat with his famous client. Daniels claimed in an interview with The Daily Beast last week that he filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump against her wishes and that he failed to give her a full accounting of how he spent more than a half-million dollars raised on a crowdfunding site for her legal fees.
That apparent tiff appears to have been patched up, with Daniels walking back some of her claims and reportedly saying they’ve “straightened s— out” and Avenatti saying in his statement Tuesday that “I will continue to represent Stormy Daniels.”
But the political damage may have been done.
“Anybody can run for president and make the trip to New Hampshire, but at the end of the day your own house has to be in order and I think people kind of caught on to that rather quickly, and that’s my guess why he fizzled out,” Surdukowski said. “It was going to be a non-starter once all the skeletons came to light.”
New Hampshire Young Democrats Executive Director Amelia Keane pointed to Avenatti’s demeanor.
She noted that “there was a lot of initial excitement for Avenatti.”
But Keane, who met with Avenatti on his final trip to the state, added that his style was “more brash than most Democrats are used to.”
Two New Hampshire Democrats, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely, were less diplomatic.
“I was wary of him from the get-go,” said a longtime Granite State-based lawyer and Democratic activist. “I didn’t think he was the type of candidate that would do well here. I thought he was too aggressive and frankly I was unsure of his credentials to even consider him for president.”
And a Democratic state lawmaker who also asked to remain anonymous claimed that Avenatti “was perceived as largely being a political hack, not a person of substance.”