I think we’ve almost got the whole 2020 field- really! At this point, we’re waiting on Terry McAuliffe, Steve Bullock, and Michael Bennet to make their decisions, but really we’re all mostly waiting on Joe Biden to shake things up- one way or the other. Stacey Abrams and Seth Moulton still sit on the periphery as possible candidates for now.
While I’ve been watching very closely, I haven’t picked my final horse yet. There are 19 current candidates, and frankly it’s hard to see this race not hitting 20. I do have some generalized feelings though, so I figured I’d share them.
I Really Like a Lot of Candidates
I pretty much knew that I loved several candidates from the jump. I already had made up my mind that I felt positively about Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden before this campaign (add Sherrod Brown here too, though he ultimately didn’t run.). I had more than a strong hint that I liked Julian Castro too, which hasn’t changed. Jay Inslee’s commitment to fighting climate change has made a fan of me. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have built strong followings in a hurry, and I am impressed by their charisma. John Hickenlooper’s record as Governor of Colorado has surprised me in a positive way, relative to how he’s been sold so far. That’s ten candidates I can already give a positive grade.
There are others whom I am not necessarily negative on, I just don’t have enough information yet to make a decision. Tim Ryan is always someone I liked, but I soured on a bit for his opposition to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. His recent entry is too new for me to judge yet. John Delaney is a fairly wealthy former Congressman who is self-funding, and running towards the middle. I don’t see his pathway if Joe Biden enters, but it’s hard to judge until then. Wayne Messam is a very interesting Mayor of Miramar, Florida, but he hasn’t generated a ton of coverage yet. Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson come from outside of the government world, but like Messam aren’t getting much coverage. Eric Swalwell is an impressive Congressman, but he just entered this week, and so I have no feelings yet. I haven’t passed much judgment on these five so far.
This leaves Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mike Gravel in the category where I’m less than supportive. My feelings towards them are not all the same, so let me address them individually.
- Mike Gravel- The former Alaska Senator is commendable in some ways, particularly for reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record in his Senate tenure. With that said, a lot of time has passed since those days, as has a mostly unnoticed 2008 campaign for President. Gravel pretty much freely admits he’s not running to win this nomination, so it’s hard for me to be excited.
- Kirsten Gillibrand- If I voted entirely on issues, I could probably like what Gillibrand is saying now. The problem there is her career has put her on both sides of everything from guns to immigration. Evolution is fine, but it gets to be a bit of a stretch. While I believe Al Franken should have been afforded a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, I don’t blame Gillibrand at all for voicing her opinion on that. I do hold Gillibrand’s about face on Bill Clinton against her though. After a two decade relationship, working in the Clinton Administration, working in major allied law firms, having Bill and Hillary campaign and advocate for her House and Senate candidacies, for her to “evolve” and say President Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair was a bridge too far. You don’t turn on your mentors the moment they aren’t popular and useful anymore. Even so, her campaign positions are admirable, and while I’m not a fan, I feel better about her than I did before she entered.
- Tulsi Gabbard- Gabbard is another candidate I was out on from day one. I’m unhappy with her 2016 decision to quit the DNC to endorse Bernie and call the process “rigged.” I could get over that though. What I can’t get over? Gabbard’s advocacy for Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. It is one thing to oppose military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, it’s another thing to say he hasn’t committed war crimes against his people. In Gabbard’s defense, her campaign has laid out a desire to curb war spending in America, which has given her ideological consistency and clarity that I can respect. I’m just not forgiving advocacy for a bad guy.
- Bernie Sanders- Absolutely not. Does Bernie have a few aspirational ideas that aren’t bad? Sure. I can’t say I generally agree with him though on the policies for right now, nor does his record suggest to me that he has any plan to enact his plans, much less pass them through Congress. I cannot forgive his 2016 behavior either. The guy’s not a Democrat, and he’s shown us that. There’s no way I’d support him to be the nominee in 2020.
So that’s my feelings on the candidates. So how about…
The State of the Race-
Polls really don’t mean much until Joe Biden either enters or exits the race, because he’s the undisputed polling leader. In the race’s current construction, with him as a probable candidate, the race is far different than if he doesn’t. If 30% or so of the electorate suddenly were free agents, that would shake things up, and probably dramatically change the current polling order.
What does matter is money though. There is no argument that Bernie raised the most in the first quarter. Kamala Harris also had an impressive quarter. Beto O’Rourke did pretty well as well, and Pete Buttigieg did fairly well. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker all did well enough to compete, but have to keep up their pace.
What’s more important than cash raised though is burn rate. Bernie spent $4 million of his $18 million despite not being in the race very long. Warren spent 80% of her money raised, but still came out with a deceptively impressive cash on hand number by transferring Senate campaign funds. Can they sustain their spending rate? Meanwhile, while Klobuchar came in behind them, she only spent about 20% of her cash, and transferred more over from her Senate campaign. Watch the cash on hand, and the burn rates, when evaluating early fundraising.
In a race where most of the candidates are similar on issues, I’m watching who has the strong operations. Lean campaigns that raise respectable money, while remaining competitive in the polls, impress me. This is part of what has made “Mayor Pete” seem serious to operatives so far- he’s sustaining a competitive campaign without spending much.
Nobody is Perfect
Just about every candidate has some flaws in their candidacy. Some seem overblown, others concerning, but really none are disqualifying to me, unless I said so above. I’m not looking for perfect, or to be inspired, or to make history. I just want to elect a competent President.
This means I’m looking for an electable nominee. Some candidates, like Biden and Klobuchar, have solid arguments about their electability- but it’s anecdotal so far. Candidates need to prove that.
This Ain’t 2008
Because everyone in the field is trying to raise their money from the “grassroots,” rather than traditional bundling, the debate is more leftward than the country at-large, and it is favoring candidates with less experience and record. That may very well be a good thing in the end. It might also spell defeat for the Democrats. The 2008 process pushed us towards an electable nominee, this one may very well push us towards one that appeases our base, and no one else.
I’m going to stick with an upbeat outlook here. I absolutely love 3-4 candidates, like around 10, and could accept 15-16. That’s a good field. In the end, I want a nominee who can win though, and that is what will matter to me. I can give a bit on ideology and/or excitement, as long as they can beat Donald Trump. That’s what matters.