It seems like not that long ago the field of candidates jockeying for the Democratic Presidential nomination looked like the paddock at the start of the Kentucky Derby. You had a handful of women, an African American Senator, a Latino and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a self-described ‘Asian nerd,’ a new-age guru and an assortment of white guy pols, congressmen, governors---sitting and former---and two billionaires. Today, it’s down to two; Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The events unfolded quickly,” said Rob Preuhs, head of the Metropolitan State University of Denver Political Science Department. “It was strange.” One by one, ostensibly strong women fell by the wayside, including Senators Kirsten Gillenbrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and, just last week, Elizabeth Warren. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard remains a candidate but in name only. Short of a miracle, she will remain where she is today, hovering at near zero in the polls.
In a demographically changing America, Democrats are quietly---sometimes not so quietly---optimistic that they have a good chance of taking back the White House in 2020. But not so fast, said Preuhs. “Messaging and campaigning are important,” said Preuhs, as are “outreach and mobilization.” But to win come November voters need to vote.
Political cartographers, like Preuhs, are closely watching the map for any changes and paying special attention to the hue of certain states, especially states where black and Latino votes could decide races. Gender, as was proven by the strong field of women initially in the race, will be a major factor, too.
As the primaries play out, said Preuhs, there’s a lot of excitement about the nominee’s choice for a running mate. And it very likely could be a woman. “Given the diversity of the initial field,” he said, the party’s nominee won’t have much of a choice but to go in this direction. “A Latina or African American” could excite. But Klobuchar and Warren, who both showed well in debates, could also bring something to the ticket.
Both Sanders and Biden have picked up impressive endorsements. Former presidential candidates Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Harris and Klobuchar have joined Team Biden. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson have endorsed Sanders.
The Presidential Election is still nearly nine months away so anything can happen, said Preuhs. But two things happening today could have a direct impact on November when voters go to the polls. The spread of Covid-19, the Coronavirus, and the economy. On Monday, the Dow plunged more than 2,000 points, a reaction to the virus. Oil prices fell a frightening 20 percent.
“There are a lot of variables,” said Preuhs. “How the President handles the economy,” will be critical. The combination of Covid-19 and oil could deliver a crippling blow to the economy. A weakened economy or, worse, recession, could wound President Trump and improve Democrats chances of regaining the White House. It could also boost their chances of retaking the Senate.
Right now, there is an ideological war being waged in the Democratic Party. It shows up with the names of endorsers. Biden has won the support of mainstream, traditional Democrats like those who ran against him for the nomination. Sanders has the solid support of the Progressive wing of the party led by Ocasio-Cortez. When the two wings coalesce will be worth watching.
While it is a major consideration---perhaps vital---neither candidate, said Preuhs, has completely won over Latino voters. Arizona and Florida, two states with significant Latino populations, are critical though each state seems to have ideologically different leanings. Arizona Latinos are Mexican American and traditionally Democratic voters; Florida, with a hefty Cuban American population is more conservative and frequently a solid Republican voting bloc.
Biden’s win in South Carolina and subsequent Super Tuesday wins in which he nearly ran the table, was an amazing turnaround, said the MSU professor. “The events unfolded quickly,” he said. Until then, Biden’s campaign had been marked with gaffes and statements that many found puzzling if not downright odd. South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn’s endorsement turned what was expected to be a close win for Biden into a landslide. It also showed that Biden had not lost his touch with older African American, many of whom still link Biden to President Obama.
If Biden is to win his party’s nomination, Preuhs said, he will have to keep spending time and resources cultivating the black vote. But he’ll have the advantage of high-profile mainstream and moderate African American who have joined in his crusade, including Booker and Harris. Sanders, who is now playing catch-up after so many months leading the pack, has his work cut out for him. But he does seem to have the support of younger Latinos and African Americans who, if they turn out in the right numbers, could turn the race to the nomination into something guaranteed to keep everyone’s attention.