The Democratic Iowa Caucus is just under a year away. That means, of course, it is time to speculate on which candidates will/should be the front-runners in the Democratic primaries. Right now, the field is wide open, with more than a dozen candidates already running and even more in the discussion. For the sake of brevity I’ll try and discuss the type of candidate that would be best suited to run in the current political environment, and then move on to who specifically would be a good candidate.
To determine what type of candidate will win in 2020, it’s first important to consider why Democrats lost the presidency in 2016. Hillary Clinton was an extremely unpopular candidate with about as much political baggage as you can have. Her policies were pretty much standard for a Democrat, although there was much criticism for her corporate ties. She also barely campaigned in the three states that lost her the presidency (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania). These states were assumed, incorrectly, to be fairly safe for her. However, Donald Trump’s populism appealed to enough voters in these three states to swing the election in his favor.
The key takeaway, other than avoiding the nomination of a candidate who half the country already hates, is that Democrats need a candidate who can win in the Rust Belt. If a candidate won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in addition to the states Clinton won in 2016, then they would win the election. It would stand to reason that Democrats would want to nominate a candidate who appeals to voters in these areas. Trump did so well in the Rust Belt because of his economic populism, so a candidate that could offer effective alternatives to his policies would likely be able to win.
The Democrats will have to figure out what sort of platform will appeal to voters in these areas. Should a moderate who can win independents and some Republicans be put forward? Or would a liberal running on a progressive platform be ably to better combat Trump? It’s tough to say. Turning out a party’s base and winning independent voters are the key to winning elections, and it’s difficult to find the Goldilocks Zone of policies that will do both.
On issues like healthcare, Democrats are probably fairly safe running to the left. Protecting people with pre-existing conditions is a winner, while Medicare-for-all is less safe but still popular. On immigration arguing for the abolishment of ICE is probably not the best politically, although Democrats could certainly present the wall as a waste of money and failed Trump promise to boot. Economically, I think that a sort of Green New Deal platform could be a winning idea. If it is spun as a way to create thousands of well-paying jobs than Democrats could regain the economic edge. Pledging to make the rich pay their fair share would also help. But whatever message the Democrats come up with, the big question is who will be best to sell it.
While candidates like Sanders, Biden and Warren are considered front-runners, they all have their issues. Warren was not able to effectively handle the whole “Pocahontas” thing at all, calling into question her ability to campaign effectively. Bernie is popular and has some economic stances that would draw a contrast to Trump, but is really old. Biden is well-liked and was born in Pennsylvania, but he’s really old too. Biden also has a lot of political baggage, similar to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Cory Booker is another name that is often floated, but he’s a bit too much of a political opportunist. He comes across as establishment Washington to the bone. Out of the current senators running, Kamala Harris is a better choice. She comes from a diverse background that should excite liberals and is very well-prepared for the role. She would prevent a strong foil to Trump and the Republican Party.
One group to consider is the Democratic stars who lost in 2018: Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum. They’re all popular in the party, and have enough experience to be qualified but not so much that they have a troublesome history. They are all from the south, meaning they might perform better in a swing state like Arizona or Florida. O’Rourke has gained a lot of groundswell. However, these candidates comparatively lack experience. A better move may be to concentrate on running for statewide positions.
Democrats need to nominate a candidate with a good amount of experience but who doesn’t come across as an establishment hack. Someone like Sherrod Brown, a staunch liberal who nevertheless has handily won statewide in Ohio (although he has said he’s not running). Or possibly Amy Klobuchar, whose midwestern background could help her in the Rust Belt. However, they must make every effort to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Someone who is perceived as being too establishment will have a tough time in 2020.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.