As the Democratic Primary Shapes Up, Voters Size Up the Candidates

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Former Vice President Joe Biden’s kickoff rally for his 2020 Presidential campaign. May 18, 2019 (photo: Michael Stokes)

In the crowded field of Democratic contenders for President, few definites have emerged in the past months. As candidates have brushed up against one another in the press, sometimes politely, sometimes not, no one has dazzled.

No one one has exactly gone down in flames, either.

Former Vice President Joe Biden seems to be favored by many Democratic insiders and in the polls as the one Democrat in the field who could definitely win in a head-to-head against Donald Trump. Other Democrats aren’t so convinced.

Those with their ear to the ground still don’t find Biden all that strong of a candidate. They fear his history, his voting record, and most of all, they fear Biden’s well-deserved reputation as a gaff-master. His misspeaks, missteps, misstatements, misunderstandings are practically legendary in politics.

Keeping Biden insulated from the press seems to be the current campaign strategy. But that shows only the side of Biden that emerges after one of his notorious gaffes when he faces the press under pressure to explain himself. At these times, Biden is in damage control mode, which can sometimes comes across as defensive.

Biden’s most recent gaffe- a reference to his friendly working relationship with Democratic segregationists decades ago- made the usual angry rounds across social media. Some Democrats, like Sen. Cory Booker, who is also running for President, were quick to condemn Biden.

Others Democrats were quick to defend the former Vice President, choosing to focus on the gist of Biden’s argument- that he is capable of working with anyone, however odious- rather than the other less savory implications of his statement.

Biden, in typical Biden fashion, failed to apologize, standing on his record with regards to civil rights and brushing off Booker’s criticism as as political ploy for effect.

While former Vice President Joe Biden has continuously failed to energize the Democratic base, other candidates have tried to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.

Small-town mayor Pete Buttigieg has been working the circuit, appearing at town halls and extolling large crowds on his virtues as the Democratic standard bearer against Trump in 2020.

His military service record, his youth and over-all like-ability make him a very attractive candidate to many Democratic voters. Even some independents and libertarians have taken to Buttigieg. His liberal bona fides are helped by the fact that Buttigieg is an openly gay man; Buttigieg’s husband is one of his best campaign assets, is a wonderful speaker and obviously one of his biggest fans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in spite of a relatively slow start to her campaign, is finding more momentum as the first debates draw closer. Her reputation as the candidate with a plan for everything grows increasingly more solid as the days go on.

Warren is hurt by the recent media dust-up over her claims of Native American ancestry. Whether she will face questions about that from her fellow Democrats during the debate remains to be seen. Of whether or not President Trump will mention it in order to take a jab at Warren, we are certain.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has perhaps the best chance in a debate against Donald Trump. Her absolute no-nonsense attitude would leave Trump revealed as the schoolyard bully that he is. Watching Trump take on Klobuchar would be like watching a first grader talking back to the principal.

Any Democrat willing to be dragged into a name-calling contest, or willing to engage with Trump on that level, will come out of the mix worse than they came in to it.

Sen. Kamala Harris is a strong candidate, though her record as a prosecutor is bound to come up during the Democratic debates. This is not a good time for a Democrat to flout a ‘tough on crime’ stance. It is perhaps unfair that African American voters are quick to give Biden a pass on his role in the war on drugs and crime bills that have seen millions incarcerated under racially biased sentencing practices; and yet Kamala Harris reputation as a prosecutor is likely to cost her in popularity.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is still polling well in spite of the fact that the other contenders have almost all co-opted some of his best ideas from 2016 and 1976, and in some cases have left him in the middle as the most progressive people in the Democratic party have moved hard left.

Sanders remains the progressive firebrand, and as many see him as the rightful Democratic nominees who should have been in 2016, they feel he is the obvious choice for a match up against Trump.

But Sanders is not a Democrat. If the Democrats nominate someone else, will Bernie supporters mobilize for another candidate, like Joe Biden?

In the upcoming debates, the Democratic presidential candidates will, most of all, be trying to create a viral moment for themselves and their campaign. Each of them needs to demonstrate their fitness to go the distance against Trump, and that means competing for attention against someone who can threaten war with a single tweet.

With that in mind, no claim will be too outrageous, no policy too progressive to get its moment in the debate spotlight. You can bet this week’s debates will reveal a great deal about the candidates, the Democratic base, and the country itself as the party takes a long look at what a Donald Trump presidency has done to their ranks.

Is former Vice President Joe Biden capable of energizing the Democratic base? Will Democrats give him the chance to try?

Is Pete Buttigieg the top-tier candidate no one saw coming? Does Elizabeth Warren really have a plan for everything?

The nation waits on pins and needles to find out.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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