Myr­iad prospects for 2020 nom­i­nee

Democrats could go young or old, cen­trist or pro­gres­sive.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY JANET HOOK

WASH­ING­TON — There are fresh faces and old hands. Thirty-some­things and se­nior cit­i­zens. Bil­lion­aires and at least one per­son still pay­ing off stu­dent loans. A skate­boarder, a brew­ery founder and a cof­fee mag­nate are all tak­ing a look.

Dozens of Democrats are think­ing about run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2020.

The re­sult could be a di­vi­sive, messy set of pri­maries, but many Democrats are ex­hil­a­rated at the prospect of a wide range of choices, mir­ror­ing the con­gres­sional races in 2018.

“If there’s one thing we learned over the last two years, it’s that pri­maries are a good thing,” said Amanda Lit­man, founder of Run for Some­thing, a group es­tab­lished after Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion in 2016 to re­cruit and train young pro­gres­sives to run for of­fice. “They make our party stronger.”

In sort­ing through their choices be­tween young and old, lib­eral and more cen­trist, white men and women and peo­ple of color, Democrats will be de­cid­ing not only who they want as a nom­i­nee, but what kind of party they want to be now that the Clin­tons’ quar­ter­century po­lit­i­cal dynasty is es­sen­tially over.

The ear­li­est can­di­dates to an­nounce un­der­scored the un­par­al­leled di­ver­sity of the emerg­ing field. A woman, Sen. El­iz­abeth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts, was the first ma­jor na­tional fig­ure to set up an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee. A Latino, for­mer San An­to­nio Mayor Ju­lian Cas­tro, for­mally an­nounced Satur­day. A black woman, Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia, is on a book tour that will prob­a­bly be fol­lowed by an an­nounce­ment later this month.

But three white men’s de­ci­sions about whether to run could have out­sized im­pact on the 2020 field: For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont and for­mer Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas all have the rest of the field watch­ing for their de­ci­sions.

If Bi­den runs, he be­comes an in­stant front-run­ner on the strength of his ex­pe­ri­ence and vast po­lit­i­cal net­work.

His en­try would also guar­an­tee that a cen­tral ques­tion of the pri­mary will be a gen­er­a­tional one, as younger ri­vals will ar­gue that it is time for the older guard to pass the ba­ton.

That gen­er­a­tional split will widen fur­ther if the 46year-old O’Rourke jumps in. He be­came a na­tional sen­sa­tion in his failed 2018 Se­nate cam­paign in Texas, with vi­ral Face­book livestreams of him skate­board­ing, driv­ing and cook­ing din­ner.

O’Rourke is not the youngest hope­ful: Con­gress­man Eric Swal­well (D-Dublin), one of the youngest at 38, still owes about $100,000 on his stu­dent loans.

If Sanders de­cides to run, his will be a big pres­ence in the lane of left-lean­ing can­di­dates, one that would prob­a­bly crowd ide­o­log­i­cal al­lies such as Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard of Hawaii, who an­nounced her can­di­dacy Fri­day, and Ore­gon Sen. Jeff Merkley if he runs.

With about three dozen Democrats ei­ther in the race or say­ing they are con­sid­er­ing it, 2020’s Demo­cratic pri­mary field could ri­val the GOP’s sprawl­ing 17-can­di­date field in the 2016 cam­paign. It could break the Demo­cratic record set in 1976, when 13 can­di­dates ran se­ri­ous bids for the nom­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to Larry Sa­bato, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics, who sees some par­al­lels to to­day’s sit­u­a­tion.

Democrats that year were rid­ing high after their 1974 post-Water­gate land­slide, and the power of party bosses had been weak­ened.

“With no one in­flu­en­tial enough to say ‘no,’ any­one with pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions said ‘yes,’” said Sa­bato. Now, the role in the nom­i­nat­ing process for party lead­ers and so-called su­perdel­e­gates has been di­luted, and am­bi­tious Democrats have been em­bold­ened by their suc­cess in the 2018 midterm elec­tion.

The huge and var­ied field of po­ten­tial can­di­dates cries out for a guide for keep­ing track of the herd.

Older gen­er­a­tion

Bi­den, 76, and Sanders, 77, ride atop many polls — thanks largely to name recog­ni­tion — and al­ready have strong na­tional po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions in place.

One ob­sta­cle they face, how­ever, will be the clamor from some Democrats for a chang­ing of the gen­er­a­tional guard after a midterm elec­tion that re­in­forced the im­por­tance of young peo­ple to the party coali­tion. Ac­cord­ing to exit polls, 67% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democrats in House races in 2018.

“We are in the process of turn­ing our party over to the next gen­er­a­tion,” said Howard Dean, the for­mer Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man who ran for pres­i­dent in 2004. “I want a can­di­date un­der 50 or 55.”

Dean did not name names, but about half of the peo­ple who are run­ning or con­sid­er­ing it — in­clud­ing War­ren, 69 — are over 55.

Still, older can­di­dates can ap­peal to younger vot­ers, as Sanders showed dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. In an Au­gust 2017 Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News poll, Sanders’ rat­ings among vot­ers ages 18 to 34 were 53% pos­i­tive and 22% neg­a­tive. Bi­den’s rat­ings in a Jan­uary 2018 poll were 46% pos­i­tive and 21% neg­a­tive.

Bi­den’s sup­port­ers say his age is less im­por­tant than his ex­pe­ri­ence as a life­long pub­lic ser­vant at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment — 36 years as U.S. se­na­tor and eight as vice pres­i­dent — and see him as the best equipped to go toe-to-toe with Trump.

“I think I’m the most qual­i­fied per­son in the coun­try to be pres­i­dent,” Bi­den said in a De­cem­ber speech in Mon­tana.

But he is also go­ing to have to show he is in step with a chang­ing Amer­ica.

“Any can­di­date who is go­ing to win a Demo­cratic pri­mary needs to en­gage young peo­ple and women, African Amer­i­can women in par­tic­u­lar,” said Lit­man. “It’s hard for me to imag­ine many of the older white men be­ing able to en­gage those groups.”


War­ren and Gab­bard are the first to step into what could be a crowded lane of fe­male can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Sens. Har­ris, Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota.

Com­ing on the heels of the Novem­ber midterm, when a record num­ber of women ran for of­fice and were elected to Con­gress, women’s ad­vo­cates hope 2020 could see an­other elec­tion with a woman at the top of the ticket.

But some Democrats are gun-shy about a fe­male can­di­date after Hillary Clin­ton failed in her bid to be­come the first woman in the White House. Some worry about lin­ger­ing sex­ism in the po­lit­i­cal arena.

“There are some vot­ers who are re­luc­tant to vote for a woman for pres­i­dent,” said John Gren­nan, co-chair­man of Iowa’s Poweshiek County Demo­cratic Party. “It was not spe­cific to Hillary Clin­ton. That still could be a fac­tor.”

Both Har­ris and Klobuchar have back­grounds in law en­force­ment, a less tra­di­tional ca­reer path for women. Gil­li­brand has the pro­file most closely as­so­ci­ated with women’s is­sues, as a vo­cal ally of the #MeToo move­ment. Al­though many women praised her for her role in forc­ing Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to re­sign over sex­ual mis­be­hav­ior, other Democrats hold against her what they con­sider a rush to judg­ment.

Peo­ple of color

A decade after the coun­try elected its first black pres­i­dent, Democrats will prob­a­bly have more than one can­di­date of color to con­sider.

In ad­di­tion to Cas­tro, two black se­na­tors, Har­ris and Cory Booker of New Jer­sey, are al­most cer­tain to jump into the race. Also weigh­ing a bid is Eric H. Holder Jr., who was the na­tion’s first black U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral, un­der Pres­i­dent Obama.

In a re­cent in­ter­view on “The View,” Har­ris said she thinks the United States is “ab­so­lutely” ready for a woman of color to be pres­i­dent.

Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights — a group that pro­motes black women in pol­i­tics — said that some Demo­cratic hope­fuls have al­ready reached out to the group in a hat tip to the im­por­tance of black women as both vot­ers and can­di­dates.

Al­though it’s no slam dunk that a per­son of color will top the ticket, Carr said: “I can­not imag­ine that the pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee will both be white men.”


A pas­sel of for­mer and sit­ting gov­er­nors are con­sid­er­ing run­ning — in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton’s Jay Inslee, Mon­tana’s Steve Bul­lock, Vir­ginia’s Terry McAuliffe and Colorado’s John Hick­en­looper (who also was a founder of a brew­ery be­fore be­ing elected).

None have yet caught fire, de­spite long-stand­ing tra­di­tional wis­dom that gov­er­nors make stronger pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates than se­na­tors be­cause they have ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. Over the last 50 years, four gov­er­nors, but only one se­na­tor — Obama — were elected to the White House.

But the cur­rent Trump-cen­tric po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has made it harder for gov­er­nors to get at­ten­tion for their home-state ac­com­plish­ments. Demo­cratic se­na­tors have had an eas­ier time grab­bing the spot­light by op­pos­ing the Trump pres­i­dency.

Also in the “we get stuff done” lane are three cur­rent and for­mer may­ors con­sid­er­ing a bid — Eric Garcetti of Los An­ge­les, Mitch Lan­drieu of New Or­leans and Pete But­tigieg of South Bend, Ind.

Be­ing an ex­ec­u­tive car­ries risks, as well, though, as Garcetti has found as he tries to sched­ule a pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment around a teach­ers’ strike in the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest school dis­trict.

Tad Devine, a Demo­cratic strate­gist who worked on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns of Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Sanders in 2016, said that Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers may be look­ing less for gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence this time around than for in­spi­ra­tion and ev­i­dence that a can­di­date can beat Trump.

“The old stuff is go­ing by the way­side,” said Devine. “The ex­pe­ri­ence stuff — while im­por­tant, and Bi­den will dwell on it — I don’t think it’s nearly as rel­e­vant as whether you have ideas that can ex­cite peo­ple, whether you your­self can ex­cite peo­ple.”


Me­dia bil­lion­aire Michael R. Bloomberg, who in­vested heav­ily in Demo­cratic can­di­dates in the midterm elec­tion, is con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial bid, as is for­mer Star­bucks Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Howard Schultz. Both have the ad­van­tage of bound­less per­sonal re­sources and sta­tus as po­lit­i­cal out­siders.

But su­per-wealthy busi­ness­peo­ple don’t fit eas­ily into a party dom­i­nated by lib­er­als in a pop­ulist mood. In her in­au­gu­ral swing through Iowa, War­ren derided bil­lion­aire can­di­dates.

One such hope­ful, Tom Steyer, the for­mer hedge fund man­ager from San Fran­cisco, has al­ready ruled out a pres­i­den­tial bid.

ALEX WONG Getty Images

BERNIE SANDERS has drawn young vot­ers since his strong run from the left against Hillary Clin­ton.

SAIT SERKAN GURBUZ As­so­ci­ated Press

KA­MALA HAR­RIS be­lieves vot­ers are “ab­so­lutely” ready for a woman of color to lead the coun­try.

RICK BOWMER As­so­ci­ated Press

JOE BI­DEN has the ex­pe­ri­ence and net­work­ing that come with be­ing one of the party’s old­est prospects.

ED­WARD A. OR­NELAS Getty Images

JU­LIAN CAS­TRO, who would be the first Latino nom­i­nee, vows to make cli­mate change a top pri­or­ity.

C.J. GUN­THER EPA/Shut­ter­stock

EL­IZ­ABETH WAR­REN, from the party’s pop­ulist wing, has derided bil­lion­aires who run for of­fice.

NATHAN HUN­SINGER Dal­las Morn­ing News

BETO O’ROURKE proved his ap­peal to a na­tional au­di­ence when he chal­lenged Sen. Ted Cruz last fall.

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