Weary Dem vot­ers balk at new pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates

The Saline Courier - - COMICS -

CON­CORD, N.H. — The num­ber of Democrats run­ning for pres­i­dent is grow­ing as the first votes of the pri­mary ap­proach. And vot­ers have a clear mes­sage: stop.

Former Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick roiled the race last week by launch­ing a sur­prise bid. New York bil­lion­aire Michael Bloomberg is likely to do the same in the com­ing days.

The late en­tries, less than 80 days be­fore Iowa’s kick­off cau­cuses, have ex­posed a fresh gulf in a party al­ready plagued by di­vi­sions. On one side: anx­ious es­tab­lish­ment lead­ers and donors, who are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the di­rec­tion of the race and wel­come new can­di­dates. On the other: many rank-and­file vot­ers and lo­cal of­fi­cials across early vot­ing Iowa, New Hamp­shire and South Carolina, who are drown­ing in can­di­dates and say they’re more than sat­is­fied with their cur­rent op­tions.

“They need to sit down. We’ve got enough Democrats run­ning,” said De­bra Tyus, a 63-year-old Demo­crat from Wal­ter­boro, South Carolina.

In New Hamp­shire, 75-year-old un­de­cided Demo­crat Thea Lahti said it’s “aw­fully late” in the process and fears that adding more can­di­dates is “fur­ther splin­ter­ing the field.”

And in Iowa, state Rep. Jen­nifer Kon­frst said she hasn’t spo­ken to a sin­gle Demo­crat who felt the cur­rent field wasn’t good enough.

“The more com­mon re­frain re­volves around hav­ing too many great can­di­dates al­ready,” said Kon­frst, a first­term law­maker who’s back­ing Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. “I strug­gle to see what more can­di­dates bring to the con­ver­sa­tion that isn’t al­ready here.”

Be­fore Pa­trick’s an­nounce­ment, at least 16 high-pro­file Democrats were run­ning for pres­i­dent. The field spans mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions, racial back­grounds, po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies and lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are still so many can­di­dates, in fact, that they can’t all de­bate to­gether.

The Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee im­ple­mented a sys­tem of ris­ing donor and polling thresh­olds to make the num­bers man­age­able, al­though last month’s de­bate fea­tured 12 can­di­dates, and a group of 10 will share the stage this week.

De­spite the ex­tra­or­di­nary op­tions, es­tab­lish­ment-minded Democrats have be­come in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the di­rec­tion of the race, seiz­ing on what they see as former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den’s lack­lus­ter can­di­dacy and fears that lead­ing pro­gres­sives El­iz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie San­ders are too lib­eral.

Un­der­ly­ing their con­cerns is an al­most des­per­ate ur­gency shared by much of the Demo­cratic Party to find a sure­fire nom­i­nee to deny Trump a sec­ond term. Af­ter al­most a year of cam­paign­ing, vir­tu­ally all the can­di­dates face lin­ger­ing ques­tions about their po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­i­ties.

Former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sought to calm es­tab­lish­ment anx­i­ety at a week­end donor con­fer­ence when he re­minded at­ten­dees of his own tur­bu­lent pri­mary bat­tle against Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2008. Yet he also seemed to re­in­force con­cerns about the more lib­eral can­di­dates in the race, warn­ing that “the av­er­age Amer­i­can doesn’t think we have to com­pletely tear down the sys­tem and re­make it.”

Obama and Pa­trick have long been friends. They spoke pri­vately in the days be­fore the former Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor launched, just as Obama did with sev­eral other can­di­dates ear­lier in the year. Far from dis­suad­ing Pa­trick from run­ning, the former pres­i­dent shared “great in­sights about his own ex­pe­ri­ences and about his ex­pe­ri­ence with some of the other can­di­dates and what he thought the strengths and weak­nesses of the cam­paign, of my cam­paign, might be,” Pa­trick said late last week.

Pa­trick cam­paign man­ager Abe Rakov in­sisted that deep un­cer­tainty across the elec­torate and the ab­sence of clear front-run­ners cre­ates an open­ing for new can­di­dates.

“When we’re at this point in the process and vot­ers still haven’t made up their minds, there’s an op­por­tu­nity for some­one with a dif­fer­ent story and a dif­fer­ent back­ground to come in and make their case,” said Rakov, who most re­cently worked for Beto O’rourke’s failed pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. “If it was ob­vi­ous this was a two-per­son race, it prob­a­bly would be too late for some­one to get in. But it’s not. This is a wide-open race.”

Hav­ing launched his cam­paign in New Hamp­shire late last week, Pa­trick is sched­uled to make his inau­gu­ral Iowa ap­pear­ance on Mon­day, fol­lowed by a Tues­day ap­pear­ance in South Carolina.

A Bloomberg an­nounce­ment is ex­pected this week as well.

Should he run, the former New York mayor is plan­ning to by­pass the early states al­to­gether and fo­cus in­stead on the group of so-called Su­per Tues­day states hold­ing pri­mary con­tests on the first Tues­day in March. While Pa­trick may strug­gle to raise the re­sources to launch a ro­bust mul­ti­state ef­fort in the short term, Bloomberg has a net worth of more than $50 bil­lion, and he’s ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to spend what­ever’s nec­es­sary to win.

Bloomberg se­nior ad­viser Howard Wolf­son said he’s aware that many vot­ers and early state of­fi­cials are push­ing back against new can­di­dates.

“I hear it, I re­spect it, but we do not be­lieve that the cur­rent field is par­tic­u­larly well­po­si­tioned to take on Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber, and we do be­lieve that Mike would be the best can­di­date to do that,” Wolf­son said. “There will be a bur­den on us to con­vince peo­ple of that. And that is not a bur­den that we will likely be suc­cess­ful in over­com­ing on Day 1, but cer­tainly it’s one in which we hope to be suc­cess­ful in over­com­ing as the pos­si­ble cam­paign com­mences.”

As Wolf­son notes, per­suad­ing vot­ers to wel­come new faces to a race al­ready burst­ing with high-pro­file Democrats will not be easy.

In July, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that roughly two-thirds of Demo­cratic and Demo­cratic-lean­ing reg­is­tered vot­ers had an ex­cel­lent or good im­pres­sion of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates as a group. That’s dra­mat­i­cally higher than ahead of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­mary be­tween Clin­ton and Bernie San­ders, when only about half of Democrats had a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of the field.

Vot­ers’ level of sat­is­fac­tion ac­tu­ally in­creased ear­lier in the month, ac­cord­ing to a Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll, which found that 74% of Democrats and Demo­crat­i­clean­ing vot­ers were sat­is­fied with the field; just 16% said they would like some­one else to run.

Still, es­tab­lish­ment-minded donors have be­come in­creas­ingly wor­ried about their party’s top-tier can­di­dates.

Robert Zim­mer­man, a New York-based donor and mem­ber of the Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee, said that cock­tail par­ties have es­sen­tially turned into ther­apy ses­sions for ner­vous Democrats in re­cent weeks. He noted, how­ever, that most vot­ers on the ground where it mat­ters most are pleased with the cur­rent field.

“We need more Democrats in the field like Tom Brady needs more Su­per Bowl rings,” said Zim­mer­man, a fan of the lowly New York Jets.

Former Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee Chair­man Don Fowler, who is based in South Carolina, wor­ries that the sheer num­ber of can­di­dates still in the race will al­low a less-than-de­sir­able nom­i­nee to emerge, much in the same way Trump cap­tured the GOP nom­i­na­tion in 2016 be­cause the more ex­pe­ri­enced can­di­dates sliced up the es­tab­lish­ment vote.

“We’ve got too many can­di­dates,” he said. “No more.”

That’s not to say that all pri­mary vot­ers are com­pletely closed off. While polls show that most are sat­is­fied with the cur­rent field, they also sug­gest that most vot­ers haven’t yet set­tled on one can­di­date.

In New Hamp­shire, 65-year-old in­de­pen­dent Carol Mar­aldo said that the 2020 pri­mary is al­ready con­fus­ing be­cause it’s so crowded.

“Adding more peo­ple adds to the con­fu­sion,” she said, even as she en­ter­tained the pos­si­bil­ity of a new can­di­date. If it’s “some­body that would be that per­fect per­son, I’d be all for it.”

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