Scanning the Democratic field

It’s still really early. There will be more candidates, more rumors and more drama, not to mention moments of panic among Democratic voters. And we’re barely into 2019.

How does the field, however large, get sorted out? I have some preferred candidates though, sadly, my views won’t determine the outcome. My intent is to focus on those among the contestants I like, try to avoid saying negative things about the others and, at the end of the day, support whoever is the Democratic nominee. I suspect–and hope–that most Democrats will take a similar approach because defeating Donald Trump should be the paramount consideration in 2020.

This last observation may be more profound than it sounds. We are witnessing breathless reporting about the struggle within the Democratic Party between moderates and liberals. They may disagree now about Medicare for all, the Green New Deal and raising the minimum wage, but, hopefully, the differences will fade once the choice is between any Democratic and the sitting president. There will be plenty of energy and enthusiasm to override ideological quarrels.

Let me also try to dispel one bit of anxiety. Will Democrats be sunk in the 2020 election by the fact that some members of the party describe themselves as “Democratic Socialists”? Republicans will certainly try to terrify voters with the bogeymen of Karl Marx, Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin, but, in fact, they already try to terrify voters in every election. Most Americans have only the dimmest idea of what socialism is, which Republicans will try to exploit by focusing on just the label.

The challenge for Democrats, a totally achievable one, is to emphasize  the specific programs they favor—health care, for example, looks more and more like a winning issue—and resist being dragged into a battle about labels. The dramatically growing inequity in wealth and income, exacerbated by the Republican tax cut, looks like a potent winning issue as well.

My own perspective starts with the reality that I don’t know a lot about many of the candidates.  But neither do most Democratic voters.  I am wary of those with very limited experience. We are experiencing at this moment a vivid demonstration that the presidency is no place for amateurs. Even those in the Democratic field with short tenures in national office leave me doubtful.

At the other end of that spectrum, I am disinclined to support candidates who have already had their chance. My concern is not just about age, although that is a factor. As an aside, it seems to me that the most skillful politician around today is Nancy Pelosi but I would not support her for president. There are several Democrats who have been national figures for years, have even run for the nomination before, but, in my opinion, bring more baggage than viability to the race.

I say that knowing that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all have enthusiastic followings. The occasional reports that Hillary Clinton is contemplating another try seem more about staying in the public eye than about a serious candidacy.

Right now, I am most impressed with two of the candidates in the Democratic field. That opinion is based, first, on my assessment that in a General Election a moderate will hold onto most Democratic voters while having the best chance to win over independents and even a few disgruntled Republicans.

The two Democrats who have my attention right now are both from the Mid West, another factor that is likely to be critical in 2020. Trump’s upset wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016 turned the election. Knowing a bit about the Keystone State, I’m pretty confident Trump can’t win there again.  Having a nominee from that section of the country could recreate the “Blue Wall” that would be key to a winning Electoral College strategy for the Democratic candidate .

Sherrod Brown, Democratic Senator from Ohio, is well positioned to run strongly throughout the region. He was re-elected in 2018 even as Republicans won all the other key races in his state. He is not regarded as a dynamic speaker, but he is a clear and strong advocate for core Democratic values. He seems to have the potential to bridge the gaps among Democratic voters.

For now, I’m going to still include my second choice, Amy Klobuchar, even though she is encountering highly negative press about her treatment of staff. A major story in the New York Times last week went well beyond earlier accounts and ensures that the controversy won’t go away quickly. However, if her campaign is not derailed by those stories, she brings the same sort of Mid West moderate appeal as Brown.  

The former Governor from Colorado, John Hickenlooper, and the current one from Montana, Steve Bullock, brings some of the same strengths as my first two choices.  While neither is well-known nationally, they each possess the significant attribute of having been a successful chief executive.

In including Klobuchar, I’m explicitly betting that a woman could win notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. I’m also not ready to conclude that a person of color can’t win despite the upsurge in open racism that we have seen recently. We are likely to get a better read on both these questions as the election season unfolds.

It’s too early to predict that any of the four I have mentioned will win the Democratic nomination and then go on to capture the presidency in 2020. There are too many obstacles still to be overcome for any candidate and too many unforseeable events to make such a prediction now.

Still, if one of these candidates or one with similar characteristics is the Democratic candidate in 2020, there is a very good chance that Donald Trump will be a one-term President. Then we can begin repairing the damage he has done.