Democrats should feel good about our prospects in 2020

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“Capitol Hill, U.S.A.” by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

Back shortly after the 1996 election, I publicly predicted that the 2000 presidential race would be between Al Gore and George W. Bush and that the result would be very close. People in the room either snickered or rolled their eyes, but this prediction proved surprisingly prescient.

I start my post with that story because the number of predictions I have made that did not come true are legion. As a result, I’m going to hang my claim to expertise on that one prophesy. My record also gives me an out if it turns out that my predictions here today are incorrect.

That said, I do base my opinion on my involvement in numerous Presidential campaigns both as an outside observer and, in a number of cases, as an inside staffer. A persistent theme I hear among Democrats right about now is “where are our candidates for 2020?” I’m not concerned. I feel like we’ve been here before.

The truth is that the ultimate nominee emerges through the process. At the beginning of the process, virtually none of the candidates are particularly well-known outside their home states. Oftentimes, the nominee everyone predicted at the beginning of the process ends up faltering. Be honest, did you really know much about Barack Obama, a one-term Senator from Illinois, prior to the start of the 2008 campaign? Early on, did you expect that he would beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination? It’s through the process that he ultimately emerged as our nominee.

It seems like we forget this every four years. Barack Obama seems like such a gigantic figure that dominates our party — now that he spent eight years as President. Even Jimmy Carter, the little-known one-term Governor of Georgia who emerged as the party nominee in 1976 and only served one term as President, is a huge figure in our party.

Indeed, Bernie Sanders is likely only the national figure he represents now only because of his strong 2016 campaign. Had he not run, most people would still not have heard of him.

Interestingly, the person who was expected to win at the beginning of the process often does not emerge at the end. I already mentioned Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign, but there was also Mario Cuomo in 1992, Gary Hart in 1988, John Edwards in 2004… The list goes on. In fact, Hillary Clinton in 2016 is the exception that proves the rule. It is likely that the only reason she secured the nomination was because she and Obama were successful in clearing the field for her that year. The fact that she had no strong opposition for the nomination is demonstrated by the fact that she lost numerous primaries and caucuses to a 75-year old independent socialist — who was not a member of the Democratic party at all — from a small New England state.

This point brings me to my first prediction. None of the people who are now talked about as front-runners for the nomination will be the Democratic nominee in 2020. For Joe Biden, this would be his third run — people forget he crashed and burned the first two times. Nobody wants to see Hillary Clinton run again. Bernie Sanders only looked strong in contrast to Hillary. Frankly, although I admire her, I think Elizabeth Warren might be a little too academic and a little too old (at 71 in 2020) to go the distance. In reality, I expect the nominee will be someone few anticipate at this time.

In truth, despite Democratic activist belly-aching, we have a very strong bench. Some possibilities include Senators Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Corey Booker (NJ), or Amy Klobuchar (MN) to name a few. Governors and former Governors include Andrew Cuomo (NY), Deval Patrick (MA), or Martin O’Malley (MD), who has the advantage of having run the gauntlet already. There might even be an upset campaign mounted by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI) who has a compelling story to tell, or there might be an outsider such as Michael Bloomberg (former Mayor of New York) or Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook). Of course, we cannot forget Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’s lawyer. And this is an incomplete list.

Every one of these candidates is dynamic and exciting. Every one of them is positioning themselves for a potential run. Every one of them brings certain strengths and weaknesses to the race that, depending on how the race develops, might make them formidable or an also-ran. They are a diverse crowd, representing different viewpoints, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and including many women. Any one of them could mount a successful challenge to Trump. As long as we manage to not destroy ourselves in the primary campaign, we need not worry about whether we have strong candidates in the running.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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