Dems em­brace di­ver­sity of choices for pres­i­dent in 2020

But the grow­ing field un­der­scores a gen­er­a­tion gap

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - REMEMBERING -

WASHINGTON — There are fresh faces and old hands. 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 by 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, an­nounced his can­di­dacy Satur­day. A black woman, Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia, is on a book tour that will likely be fol­lowed by an an­nounce­ment later this month.

But three white men’s de­ci­sions about whether to run could have out­sized ef­fect 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 fron­trun­ner 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 46-year-old O’Rourke jumps in. He be­came a na­tional sen­sa­tion in his failed 2018 Texas Se­nate cam­paign.

O’Rourke is not the youngest hope­ful: Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Eric Swal­well, D-Calif., 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 left­lean­ing can­di­dates, one that would likely 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 2016. 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,’” Sa­bato said. 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 elec­tions.

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 Demo­cratic Party coali­tion. Ac­cord­ing to exit polls, 67 per­cent 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 chair who ran for pres­i­dent in 2004. “I want a can­di­date un­der 50 or 55.”

Dean did not name names, but about half the peo­ple who are or are con­sid­er­ing run­ning — 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 was 53 per­cent pos­i­tive and 22 per­cent neg­a­tive. Bi­den’s rat­ings in a Jan­uary 2018 poll were 46 per­cent pos­i­tive and 21 per­cent neg­a­tive.

Bi­den’s sup­port­ers say his age is less im­por­tant than his ex­pe­ri­ence as a life­long pub­lic ser­vant 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 De­cem­ber.

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, AfricanAmer­i­can women in par­tic­u­lar,” said Amanda Lit­man. “It’s hard for me to imag­ine many of the older white men be­ing able to en­gage those groups.”

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