Will 2020 follow 2008’s script?
Goodness knows it’s early, and things change quickly and often, but at the moment the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is looking a lot like the one in 2008.
In both elections, the White House has been occupied by a Republican president first elected despite losing the popular vote – first President George W.
Bush and then President Trump. (One big difference: Trump is an incumbent up for re-election, while the office was open in
2008 at the end of Bush’s second term.)
Both elections have started with a presumed Democratic frontrunner with experience, high name identification and a close relationship with the last Democratic administration. That’s Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020.
Both of those candidates have brought significant baggage to the campaigns. Clinton had all of the problems from her and her husband’s time in the White House and in Little Rock, as well as her supposed “likability” problem. “Likability” isn’t an issue for Biden. Instead, it’s a long record of gaffes, his sometimes uncomfortable handsyness, and his lack of success in previous presidential campaigns. Plus, he would be 77 years old when he takes office. Some people would say that’s too old.
Finally, both Clinton and
Biden have faced an uphill battle against historical forces, and their timing may have been bad. In 2008, maybe voters were not ready to elect a female president, but they were very ready to elect an African-american man, President Obama. Biden enters the race as a 76-year-old white male with a relatively centrist political history while the Democratic Party is lurching to the left, partly in response to the “Me Too” movement.
So if 2020’s script is following 2008’s, it’s no surprise that Biden started the race with a comfortable lead. And it’s no surprise he may have already lost a lot of it.
Following the two Democratic debates last week, a new CNN poll finds Biden’s support has dropped from 32% to 22% since May.
While Biden has lost 10 points in that poll, California
Sen. Kamala Harris has gained
nine points to 17%, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has gained eight points to 15%.
Before writing Biden’s political obituary, let’s note that the results of other polls vary wildly. Biden still had 33% support in a recent Hill-harrisx poll. (Sen. Harris gained six points in two weeks to 11%.) But in a Quinnipiac University Poll, Biden led Harris only 22-20. On June
11, it was 30-7.
Here’s one other similarity between Clinton in 2008 and Biden this time: Both started their campaigns believing they enjoyed strong support from African-americans, a critical Democratic Party constituency, despite a young, fresh, energetic African-american senator being in the race. Those candidates would be Obama in 2008 and Harris in 2020.
South Carolina, which has a high African-american voting population, was supposed to be Biden’s “firewall” protecting him after whatever happened in Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008, South Carolina didn’t help Clinton, whose husband author Toni Morrison called the “first black president.” Clinton, the supposed frontrunner, lost South Carolina 55-27, thanks in large part to African-americans’ strong support for Obama.
So here’s a conceivable scenario. After Iowa on Feb. 3 and New Hampshire on Feb. 11, the field winnows to five or six candidates: Biden, Harris, Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and one or two more. Harris wins South Carolina on Feb. 29, and at that point Biden is in trouble.
And then on March 3, 14 states including Arkansas and California hold their primaries. Harris wins California, her home state and the biggest prize. I have no idea who wins Arkansas. At that point, she looks more and more like the nominee. Once a sense of inevitability sets in, it’s over.
And then it’s Trump versus the first African-american female nominee of a major party.
Anyway, that’s one scenario looking ahead to 2020 from the vantage point of early July 2019.