Is it just me or is this upcoming presidential election starting up early, like unusually early. Normally candidates start announcing their intentions towards the spring and summer, but now everyone seems anxious to start campaigning as soon as the ball dropped. Whether it be in the hopes to have a clear nominee several months before the convention or to have the time necessary to muster small-donor contributions, I don’t know. But in an attempt to keep my blog topical, I guess I should comment on the forming contest.
So in this analysis I’ll be looking at several aspects:
- Whether the candidate stands on a platform that can appeal to the big tent that is the base of the Democratic Party while also being able to draw in moderates for the general election.
- The candidates past record in terms of votes or other actions that either represent strengths they can rely on or weaknesses they will need to cover.
- A personal perspective on which candidate’s vision best fits the current moment.
In light of the sensitivity that surrounds the discussion of presidential races, note that I don’t hate or even dislike anyone on this list and would vote for them in the general election were they to get the nomination. With that lets get started.
6) Amy Klobuchar
Raised and trained in the snowy hills of Minnesota don’t you know, Amy Klobuchar stands ready to compete for your vote. What’s the senator’s strategy; well ever heard of the third way. Contrary to the rest of the candidates on this list, who are trying to portray themselves as progressives with major reforms in mind, it has become evident as the Klobuchar campaign has rolled out that their platform stands on the precepts of moderation and technocratic fixes. In a recent CNN town hall, while Amy appreciated the aspirational qualities of proposals such as free public college, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for all, she nevertheless insisted that these proposals were unrealistic and offered technocratic fixes as alternatives such as an expansion of pell grants, a restoration of Obama’s clean power plan, and the establishment of a public option for healthcare.
So the question is, how does portraying one self as a moderate fare in an election? It is certainly important in the general election to have a platform that appeals to people outside of the party. Thats how winning is done. But here is the rub; before even thinking about reaching out, you have to have your base on your side. They will always be your largest group of reliable supporters, and they have to be enthused about you. That’s what the primaries are all about. Looking back towards President Obama’s two presidential campaign’s reveals the usefulness of bold leftist proposals. In 2008, when all other candidates offered hawkish foreign policy, Obama placed an emphasis on diplomacy. He ran on a federal minimum wage increase, the reform of bankruptcy laws, an increased regulation on financial markets, and universal healthcare; all proposals clearly appealing to the left rather than the center. And he won on the back of these initiatives, drawing in overwhelming support from the Democratic base and moderates.
The trouble with appealing to the center is that it is always in flux, pulled in either direction by the power struggle between the right and left. This in addition the Democratic party’s shift to the left in recent years makes Klobuchar’s platform of moderation unlikely to be a winning one. I don’t believe it would enthuse democratic voters that are needed to win in the primaries. While I do suspect she’ll enjoy a greater turn-out among older voters than say Bernie Sanders due to her more modest policy prescriptions being, at the very least, detailed, she suffers from a similar problem to Sanders 2016 campaign in that she fails, as evidenced by the recent town-hall, to connect these technocratic fixes to the specific struggles of minority voters. With this in mind, while she is a force to be reckoned with I suspect that in the end she’ll be left snowed in.
5) Kamala Harris
Sneaking her way into the electoral arena, Kamala Harris desires to infiltrate your hearts and minds and persuade you to vote for her as your next president. Yet despite her recent introduction into national politics, being elected for her first term as a Californian senator in 2016, the junior senator has been making waves in the polls. As a district attorney, and later attorney general, she gained a record of criminal justice reforms such as enacting the first statewide implicit bias and procedural justice training in the country and made officers wear body cameras. She also started pattern and practice investigations into discriminatory actions and demanded that data on in-custody deaths and police shootings be made public to ensure accountability. She also struck a foreclosure deal that greatly benefited homeowners, according to San Francisco Gate.
And yet, despite being nominally a progressive, giving support to reparations, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All, and having a decent voting record in the Senate, I can’t say I rate Kamala Harris as highly as other news media, such as CNN, does. She does have advantages such as being from California, a major state to win in the Democratic primaries, and having a rhetoric that, as the New York Times points out, could make her appealing to great swaths of voters. However, when looking a her record and past deeds, out of all the candidates on this list it is the most spotty. As Dr. Lara Bazelon points out in her New York Times column, Kamala Harris has a history of bad decisions in wrongful conviction cases. To give a more egregious example, George Case was accused by his step-daughter in 1999 for sexual-abusing her during her childhood. As the case proceeded, the judge discovered that Kamala Harris’s prosecutor had unlawfully held back potentially exculpatory evidence, including medical reports indicating that the stepdaughter had been repeatedly lied to law enforcement. Her mother even described her as “a pathological liar” who “lives her lies.” In 2015, when the case reached the Ninth Circuit Appeals court in San Francisco, Ms. Harris’s prosecutors defended the conviction. They pointed out that Mr. Gage, while forced to act as his own lawyer, had not properly raised the legal issue in the lower court, as the law required. The appellate judges acknowledged this impediment and sent the case to mediation, a clear signal for Ms. Harris to dismiss the case. When she refused to budge, the court upheld the conviction on that technicality. Mr. Gage is still in prison serving a 70-year sentence.
For a candidate who has made criminal justice her central issue, such a past can undermine her integrity in the eye the electorate. Granted, it is possible to make up for such mistakes through a long and consistent progressive voting record on the issue. Yet she doesn’t really have that, after all she has only been in the Senate, and subsequently national politics, for only a little more than two years. That isn’t enough time to mount a proper defense. Not to say that Kamala Harris doesn’t have a role to play in a later presidential run, but for 2020 I believe it’s not her time.
4) Bernie Sanders
The man. The meme. The legend. Bernie Sanders rises from the ashes of his 2016 primary campaign to run again in 2020. But it’s a crowded field this time around, he isn’t just facing one serious contender but several. How does he fare? Well since he ran relatively recently there is some data that can be pulled that is relevant in the upcoming national contest. In a breakdown of the 2016 primary provided by The Wall Street Journal, while Hillary and Bernie were neck to neck in terms of white voters, Hillary garner a clear majority of support from the African-American bloc; leading Sanders 75.9% to his 23.1%. Data such as this often plays into the narrative that Senator Sanders platform doesn’t appeal to black voters, but a more thorough analysis reveals that conclusion to be misleading. The more accurate statement would be that Bernie struggled to appeal to black voters 30 or older in 2016. In polls conducted by Edison Research on primary voters and caucus-goers in 20 states, NPR reported that “among African-Americans, who are 17 through 29, Bernie Sanders is actually leading that group, 51 to 48” with a similar lead in 17-29 latino voters as well.
Being popular with young folk, while not the most powerful voting bloc in terms of turn-out, does have it’s advantages. In 2008, Barack Obama made use of his popularity with young adults, especially within the African-American community, to convince their parents and grand-parents to support him as opposed to Hillary when she was all but assured to be the favorite amongst older voters. However, Bernie Sanders was never able to turn that potential energy into anything kinetic, an inability I deduce can be drawn from his platform more than anything.
Campaigning in the Democratic Party is a task in appealing to multiple interests at once. The party is diverse, a big tent encompassing large parts of the LGBT, African-American, Latino, and other minority communities with white progressives filling in the crevasses. These communities push for their own unique interests that a candidate needs to appeal to. In short, being a single-issue candidate isn’t going to cut it. Now Bernie isn’t hostile to the concerns of these communities, far from it, but his rhetoric and legislative focus has historically lied on addressing economic inequality at the expense of other struggles. Speaking to NPR, Dr. Huck Gutman, a close friend of Sanders and his former chief of staff, confirmed such blind-spots saying that “his (Bernie Sanders) central concerns have never been war or civil rights or gay rights or women’s rights.”
To be fair, that was 3 years ago, plenty of time fix the mistakes of yesterday. However, while the 2020 Sanders campaign have acknowledged some takeaways from 2016, such as more robust foreign policy platform as Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times has pointed out, the initial rollout of Sanders campaign indicates a failure to learn at least that particular lesson. When asked about whether he best represented the current Democratic Party after announcing his campaign on Vermont Public Radio, Bernie Sanders responded by saying “we have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age.” In a time where folks feel under attack because of their racial, sexual, or gender identity, pushing for non-discrimination so a old, white man can be elected while failing to connect your platform to the struggles of these communities is simply a bad take.
Combine that with, as Paul Krugman would say, a perchance toward rhetoric and sweeping proposals over legislative specifics, I can’t say I’m feeling the bern. Certainly the man shouldn’t be discounted, he performed well in a primary where Hillary was seen as nigh invincible. But with other candidates offering similar policies with more details and a proven ability to connect such a platform to the concerns of the disparate wings of the Democratic Party, I doubt Bernie’s chances to get past the primaries. To be fair, there is plenty of time left for Bernie to prove me wrong but until then, I’m sorry, but the bern has cooled.
3) Kirsten Gillibrand
The guardian of ranch and a lioness in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand is on the prowl to snatch the presidential election. And so far, the New York Senator seems to be making all the right moves. Unlike some other candidates we discussed before, with their messaging having a limited appeal to the base of the party, Gillibrand’s platform has embraced intersectionality. Like other democratic candidates, she has embraced the cause of single-payer healthcare while also appealing to the specific health care concerns of minority voting blocs, arguing that child care must be affordable and accessible and that maternal mortality rates in the U.S., which are particularly high among women of color, must be brought down at any cost. In regards to sexual harassment, she was the arbiter of a 2013 bill designed to protect sexual assault victims in the military and has often spoken out against public figures who have committed such acts such as Donald Trump and even former Democratic Senator Al Franken, which demonstrates a substantial amount of consistency. She also has in mind specific proposals that would help communities of color such as allowing Americans without checking accounts to bank at the local post office; a disproportionate percentage of such individuals being people of color. Like Sanders, Gillibrand is portraying herself as a progressive, but unlike Sanders she has embraced intersectionality which significantly broadens her appeal.
All good things, but what prevents her from being higher on this list? In the end, it comes down to a matter of history. Before her appointment to the U.S. senate to replace the vacant seat left by Hillary Clinton, Kirsten Gillibrand was the Representative of New York’s 20th congressional district. This district in upstate New York was, prior to Kirsten’s 2006 election, firmly in the hands of the Republican Party since 1992 and is generally a more conservative region of the state. Thus Mrs. Gillibrand ran on and advocated more conservative positions. She was a member of the House’s blue dogs coalition, a group of conservative democrats, and is noted for voting against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 over concerns with earmarks and voted for two bills would have withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities as well as another that would have limited information-sharing between federal agencies about firearm purchasers, which helped earn her a 100% rating from the NRA. Granted, once she became a senator she morphed into a standard-bearer of progressive causes, one part explained by her now representing the entirety of New York State and it’s constituents more left-leaning beliefs, another due to a steady change of perspectives on her own behalf.
Still, in a political climate occupied by an establishment v.s. anti-establishment dichotomy and some voters puritanical obsession with a life-long consistency to the progressive line, such a conservative past might bite Gillibrand in the ass. Since she is trying to cast herself as a progressive, all it would take is just one of candidates competing for that role to mention her prior positions to kickstart a massive line of criticism. How the Senator deals with this likely attack remains to be seen. She has had a consistent left-leaning voting record since joining the senate, so I feel she can comfortably defend herself. However, when compared to the other candidates higher on this list, Kirsten Gillibrand’s Achilles heel is the most glaring. She stands at this early stage in campaign with a strong chance of securing the nomination, but until the race plays out further I do believe there are other candidates with an even stronger chance.
2) Elizabeth Warren
The firebrand from Massachusetts, Senator Elizabeth Warren enters the ring to fight for your vote. And boy she is coming out swinging. Ever since joining the Senate in 2013, Sen. Warren has been a consistent champion of leftist causes. She reintroduced, along with Sen. McCain and Maria Cantwell, legislation that would restore the Glass-Steagall Act, a set of New Deal era laws that separated commercial and investment banking. Writing for Medium, Warren detailed a plan for universal child care that would create a new subsidy, paid for by revenue brought in by her proposed wealth tax, that would provide grants to states, cities, nonprofits, schools, and other local partners to “create a network of child care options that would be available to every family.” She has also recently spoke with Reuters highlighting a bill she introduced that would make it easier for minorities to get a down payment on homes and expressed support for reparations towards African-Americans saying “we must confront the dark history of slavery and government-sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences including undermining the ability of Black families to build wealth in America for generations.” Like Kirsten Gillibrand, Warren has embraced intersectionality without the baggage of a conservative past to hold her back. Debatably, she might be the candidate that would be best able to procure progressive voters.
But why isn’t she higher on this list. While I don’t have doubts that she would be able to appeal to wide enough margins to possibly clinch the nomination, how her fiery rhetoric will be received by less committed voters in the general election gives me pause. Warren is a fighter when she speaks. When campaigning in Iowa, the New York Times reported that Warren taunted Trump with claims that the Democrats shouldn’t focus their attention on him because “by the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president, in fact, he may not even be a free person.” While jabs like this are certainly cathartic for us on the left and will no doubt energize the Democratic base to overcome any obstacle in their way come Election Day to go to polls, I doubt how many other moderate voters it will attract who might be intimidated by such strong words. Not to say that Warren needs to make her platform more centrist, or allow Trump to walk all over her. Doing that would simply be bad politics. However, it is possible to straddle the line between an open palm and a closed fist. For example, in both of his presidential runs Barack Obama ran to the left, but always reminded his audience of the value of bipartisanship and recognized the common struggles between disparate populations. This balance is what carried him to the Oval Office twice, and I suspect that the candidate that is best able to strike a similar balance in presentation will be the one that will be best able to evict the real-estate mongrel from public housing. This is not to discount Warren and her rhetoric, I could very well be reading the current political moment wrong and, irrespective of my reading, Warren tone has secured her a seat in the Senate; results are hard to argue with. Still if my reading is correct, while Warren stands a strong chance in securing the nomination there is one other candidate with even better odds.
1) Cory Booker
Coming outta of Newark to score a touchdown to secure the presidency, it’s Sen. Cory Booker; the winner of a strange guy on the internet list of Democratic presidential contenders that will likely be proven wrong in a matter of months. Although, I don’t believe I am wrong here. Granted I perhaps have a regional bias, living in New Jersey, that makes me more familiar with the Senator than the other candidates. But given his record, presentation, and what I have gleaned about his character from afar, I am confident in Booker’s chances.
His record speaks for itself. As Mayor of Newark he accomplished a great expansion of economic development. As reported by Governing, during his tenure Newark saw new grocery stores and hotel open for the first time in decades, Panasonic North America and Audible relocated their headquarters, the city reported $1 billion in real estate development in 2011 and 2012—about a third of all development across the state in sheer square footage, and Newark was finally bucked its 60-year depopulation trend in the 2010 Census. All occurring in the back drop of the Great Recession, which meant the city had very little revenue to work with and often had to rely on negotiations of public-private partnerships and philanthropic investments to pick up the slack. This is not to say the Booker was solely responsible for the city’s current path to recovery, as the New York Times points out current Mayor Ras Baraka has made great strides in avoiding the dangers of gentrification and ensuring the citizens of the city are seeing the fruits of such economic developments, but Booker did lay a solid foundation.
As Senator, Cory Booker was instrumental in passing one of the few good pieces of legislation to come out of the last Congress, the First Step Act, which reformed the criminal justice system to shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and eased the federal “three-strikes” rule among other measures, as told by the Brennan Center for Justice. His proposed “Baby Bonds”, which would create trust accounts for every infant born and would be added to each year by the treasury an amount based on the child’s household income, could, as pointed out by the New Yorker, significantly reduce the wealth gap, especially the racial wealth gap. He also has a consistent voting record on other progressive issues such LGBT rights, women rights, and economic policy.
While he has clear left-leaning sensibilities that would appeal to the base of the Democratic party, his rhetoric provides an appealing accompaniment to voters outside of the base with an emphasis on the common pains of U.S. citizens and the need to rediscover a common purpose. It straddles the line in way that the number 2 choice, Elizabeth Warren, hasn’t proven herself capable of as of yet, though this not to say fiery rhetoric doesn’t have it’s own benefits or place in politics.
There are a two notable weaknesses when it comes to Cory Booker that would likely come up in the primaries, his past advocacy as Mayor for education reform proposals such as charter schools and ‘school choice’ as well as his connections to the pharmaceuticals industry, though Booker has a solid defense for both of these problems.
During his time as Mayor, Newark schools were under the state’s control as opposed to the city’s school board. This mean Cory Booker had to work with Gov. Chris Christie, another education reform advocate, to improve Newark’s schools performance. And on that metric, performance did improve. In a 2018 study conducted by Harvard University, they found that while in both charter and district schools, students’ annual growth on state tests initially declined in 2011, by 2016, students were making greater gains in English than they had before the reform and were able to transfer from under-preforming schools to high-preforming district schools and charters. The foundation Cory Booker laid, that was built upon by current Mayor Ras Baraka, has improved Newark’s schools so much that in 2018, as reported by NJ.com, the state relinquished control and returned jurisdiction to the city’s school board. In the end, it’s hard to argue with results.
As for connections to the pharmaceutical industry, a major sector in New Jersey’s economy, while it is true that in past they contributed to Cory Booker’s campaigns, for this presidential run Cory is relying on small donations from supporters as opposed to fundraising from industry donors and his record doesn’t suggest any loyalty to the sector. For example, on January 10, 2019 Cory Booker gave a press release announcing his partnership with Sen. Sanders and other House and Senate Democrats on a legislative package aimed at reducing drug prices, proposals which include the importing of drugs from other nations such as Canada.
When all the factors are added up and candidates are fully compared and contrasted, I do think that Cory Booker has the strongest chance out of all current Democratic contenders. He simply has the most strengths ,with the least amount of weaknesses that could harm him in either the primaries or the general election. But hey, I could be wrong, the race is just beginning, the fight just in it’s first minute.