Warren-Harris or Harris-Warren?
I’m going to go out on a limb. Unless things change significantly, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will continue their slide into oblivion. I expect that Biden will drop out soon after losing a slew of early primaries, while Sanders may tough it out to the convention.
This isn’t 2016 though. It isn’t Sanders vs. the deeply disliked Hillary Clinton. Instead, he faces a selection of extremely impressive and qualified candidates. The result has been a slow but steady fading of his star, with even his daunted grassroots fundraising eclipsed by Elizabeth Warren in the last quarter.
If Biden and Sanders fade, who’s left? Certainly Pete Buttitieg has impressed with his ability to raise money and generate attention. But beyond Warren, Harris and Buttitieg, the field is looking pretty weak. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker have won some impressive endorsements, but they both trail Biden and Harris and have Warren nipping at their heels. Furthermore, their fundraising and campaign have impressed nobody.
So the top tier comes down to Warren, Harris and Buttitieg. As does FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, I have a hard time imagining the youthful Mayor of a small midwestern city winning the Presidential nomination. That said, if not this year, his time will come. Buttitieg has shown himself to be a rising star. I expect him to have a prominent cabinet post in the next Democratic administration, setting himself up for another national campaign.
So that leaves Warren and Harris. Can one of them win it all? I think so. Warren has been steadily rising in the polls, especially in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Historically, of the 16 presidential candidates nominated by the Democrats and Republicans in the modern primary era in the years when an incumbent wasn’t running, only two won their nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire. Obama’s defeat of Clinton in Iowa in 2008 is what set the stage for his nomination. If Warren wins both, she will be the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.
The press has made much of Warren’s substance-based campaign. In my mind, the substance has brought her to people’s attention, but what has really propelled her candidacy has been her laser-like focus on inequality and economic populism. This message resonates both with the primary voters and the general election electorate as well. Indeed, many of her positions enjoy broad support in recent polling.
The other rising star in recent primary polling has been Harris. Indeed, one recent poll has her in second place in Iowa, just behind Warren. Interestingly, her path to the nomination might mirror Bill Clinton’s in 1992. That year, Clinton lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. And Maine, and South Dakota, and Colorado, before finally getting a big win in Georgia. He then sewed up the nomination when he went on to run the board on Super Tuesday a couple of weeks later.
Although Clinton did not win an early state, he came in close enough in New Hampshire to stay in the running. By contrast, Bob Kerrey, who came in a distant third in New Hampshire and then won South Dakota, was soon out of the race. Clinton’s credible finish in New Hampshire let him get back to his home turf in the south, where his southern background and strong relationship with the African-American community helped him save his campaign there.
Similarly, if Harris has a strong finish in Iowa and New Hampshire, the next big test in South Carolina could become a big win for her, leading her into a strong Super Tuesday the following week, an election day that includes her home state of California.
The point is, unless something dramatic changes, I think the two candidates to emerge from the primaries with credible claims to the nomination will be Warren and Harris.
Could they form a ticket together? Interestingly, I think they would compliment each other very well. I have criticized Harris for her lack of a campaign message, something Warren, with her economic populist message, has in spades.
On the other hand, the only Democrat to win both the majority of the popular vote and the electoral college more than once in the last century was Barack Obama, largely on the strength of higher turnout by African-Americans. Given Harris’s ethnic background, once southern African-Americans see she is viable with a strong finish in Iowa or New Hampshire, they will support her enthusiastically, likely helping her win in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South.
Furthermore, the two will help unify the party. Warren is a darling of the progressive wing, part of the reason Sanders has been fading. Harris is a true establishment candidate, as shown by her impressive endorsements. A ticket with the two of them would be the equivalent of a Clinton-Sanders ticket in 2016.
Finally, the very issues that concern people with Harris in the primary are the very things that will inoculate her in the general. She is a tough former prosecutor. That will protect her from the bleeding heart liberal label. Similarly, Warren, as stated above, is running on a populist message that has broad support. The two of them would be very strong together.
I can hear the howling now. This is not the time to try to make history — we need to defeat Trump. I agree. But I don’t buy the argument that Biden is the best chance to defeat Trump. Biden has already shown himself to be a weak, undisciplined campaigner with a long record that can be attacked. Nobody is enthusiastic about him, raising the concern about turnout.
Yes, Hillary Clinton lost. But does that mean that all women will lose the Presidency? We don’t hear that with all the white men Democrats who have lost presidential elections that white men are unelectable. Indeed, based upon recent history, the Democrats should nominate a black man. Clearly, Biden is not that.
For liberals like me who were disappointed that Hillary Clinton was unable to break the final glass ceiling, this might be the year. We just need to set aside our preconception of what looks like an electable candidate.
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