For those who find the ‘politics’ of our political system interesting, here is a look at the race for the Democratic nomination for President, the winner of which will oppose Donald Trump in November. As is usually the case, the race has already given us a few surprises.
There were a huge number of announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for President. Thinking Man lost count when it got to be over two dozen. That included several mayors—a very unusual situation made more unusual after one, the Mayor of South Bend, IN seems to have won the most delegates in the Iowa caucuses and came within a couple of percent of winning New Hampshire’s primary. It also included every current or former Democratic Senator. Ok, not quite but more than 20% of the Democrats in the Senate were running. Add a few members of the House and a couple of businessmen and you have a Party that senses a good chance to win. And that attracts a large pool of ambitious people.
As the campaign begins to ramp up, and the primary calendar starts to come fast and furious, for the ‘political junkies’ let’s look at the candidates and the race so far from strictly a political standpoint.
We will start slowly, with those that have already dropped out and look at why they never made a splash before moving to the latest surprises coming out of New Hampshire.
Sen. Cory Booker:
Booker was once seen as a rising star in the Party, and someone who could work across the aisle. However, when Booker entered the race, he felt that he needed to stake out a position that would make him stand out. As a result, he began to push some radical ideas, including coming out in favor of reparation payments for slavery. Rather than make him stand out, these made him irrelevant.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:
The junior senator from New York holds the seat formerly held by Hillary Clinton. She came to office with the strong back of the Clintons. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, Gillibrand announced that she felt that President Clinton should have resigned over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
This came across as hypocritical from a woman who had actively sought the support of the former President, and also as an attack on a figure that was still well thought of and influential within the Party.
Sen. Kamala Harris:
The junior senator from California decided to run for President only a couple of years after being elected to the Senate. While not unprecedented (Barak Obama did the same), she was relatively unknown outside her home state and had not distinguished herself in any particular way. She probably would also have run into questions about her political rise and the influence of her romantic and sexual relationships with prominent politicians. She was never going to be a major player.
Bloomberg is the former mayor of New York City. He entered the race late, and did not compete in Iowa or New Hampshire. Bloomberg is personally financing his campaign and has spent more than all other candidates combined but has yet to see much of an impact in the polls. Bloomberg was a Republican when he was Mayor, even though a decidedly liberal one, and that will work against him in Democratic primaries.
The former hedge fund manager has been one of the top political fund-raisers and spenders for the last several election cycles. For all of the publicity (and derision) that the Koch Bros. get for the money that they donate to political campaigns, Steyer has spent far more and decided to enter the race for President himself. He is also largely self-financing his campaign and said he will spend $100 million of his own money. In his initial campaign ads, he says that one of his goals is to get rid of corporate control of the government (apparently he is not very good at self-awareness since, as one of the richest men in the country who made his money off hedge funds and is self-financing his campaign, he would be an example of ‘corporate control’). Steyer is very influential in Democratic politics and on environmental issues but will not play be a major factor as a candidate in the primaries.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
A favorite of the liberal wing of the Party, Warren is trying to portray herself as a fresh face and woman who can take up the banner of the liberal wing carried by Bernie Sanders in the last election.
Warren, who has battled accusations that she was helped in getting a position at Harvard University by declaring she was a minority, tried to meet that topic head on before she formally announced. However, she bumbled it badly when she released a DNA test designed to prove that she was, in fact, Native American, but it showed that she was only about 1/1000th Native American. To her supporters, it didn’t matter. But to others it seemed pretty silly and her campaign got off to a slow start as a result. She picked up steam and seemed to be making headway late last year but fared badly in both Iowa and her neighboring state of New Hampshire where it was assumed she would do well.
Her unapologetic manner makes her a darling of those who agree with her but her academic, ‘ivory tower’ arrogance would probably put off a lot of voters if she made it to the general election. But she won’t. And it looks like Sanders will again carry the torch for the far left wing of the Party.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
A self-avowed socialist, Sanders is making another run for the Presidency after making a surprisingly strong show in 2016. Having spent his life in elective office (since his late 20’s) Sanders has been consistent in his beliefs and that gives him a strong core of support. The Party apparatus was stacked against him last time out, and his supporters are vowing that this time will be different.
Sanders made a good showing in Iowa and won again in his neighboring state of New Hampshire (as he did in 2016). He has momentum and has taken advantage of Joe Biden’s fall in the polls. But Sanders has a long way to go. He still is viewed as a bit of a fringe candidate by most of the electorate and he still can’t explain how he will pay for his spending plans that could literally double spending by the federal government.
Former Vice President and Senator Biden entered the face as the favorite. He is seen as the experienced statesman and was the Vice President for a popular Democratic President. He has also made several previous runs for President.
He campaigns as a moderate and practical alternative who can appeal to independent and working-class voters that went heavily for Trump last time, and he is playing up his ‘electability’. However, Biden has stumbled badly in Iowa and New Hampshire and did not finish in the top three in either race. South Carolina will be key for Biden, which has a Democratic population that should fit his profile nicely-more conservative than other states, with a large number of minority voters. He needs to do very well in South Carolina, or he will likely fall even farther and may not recover.
The Mayor of South Bend, IN is the surprise of the race so far. With no national political experience, and the mayor of a relatively small city, Buttigieg has finished in the top two in Iowa and New Hampshire, beating out several better-known candidates including former Vice President Biden.
Buttigieg is laying out a position as a moderate on economic issues and a ‘new face’ that contrasts with Joe Biden, whose natural constituency is the more moderate Democratic voter.
At a time when most Democratic candidates were trying to show they could appeal to the very liberal wing of the Party, he won accolades early on when he directly confronted the ‘Medicare for All’ health plan proposed by Warren and Sanders, and gave a straightforward response to why he opposed it and why he thought it was bad for the country’s healthcare system.
It remains to be seen if he has the staying power to be competitive, but he has done surprisingly well so far.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
The senator from Minnesota is playing up her ‘Midwest nice’ persona while trying to show herself as a moderate force in the Party, able to work across the aisle. She is respected my members of both Parties in the Senate.
Klobuchar is not that well known and was seen as a ‘second tier’ candidate. She put most of her effort into a good showing in New Hampshire, making 23 visits to the state, and it paid off. In Tuesday’s voting. She finished a close third place, but ahead of Elizabeth Warren, who represents the neighboring state of Massachusetts, and Joe Biden.
If Klobuchar can take advantage of her New Hampshire showing and translate it into votes in the upcoming primaries in more moderate states of South Carolina, Nevada and others, she could become a player in the primaries.
And if she were the nominee, being from the Midwest would help her in Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan which provided Trump his margin of victory in 2016.
The Democratic base is passionate about defeating President Trump in November and voter turnout should not be a problem. However, it will be the same for Republicans To win in November, Democrats will need to do two things:
1) get a larger number of minority voters (Hillary Clinton’s percentage of the vote from both minorities and women went down from the previous election). As it stands now, all the Democratic minority candidates have dropped out and it’s somewhat ironic that the only candidates left running in the Party that touts its support for minority issues are all white. Well, unless you count Elizabeth Warren who claims she is at least 1/1000th Native American
2) win over a small percentage of what were once called ‘Reagan Democrats’-working class Democratic voters in Midwest industrial states that went heavily for Trump in 2016.