With a Mere 16 Months Left Until Election Day, It’s Still Anybody’s Game…Probably
by Chris Lundquist
by Chris Lundquist
The first Democratic primary debates for the 2020 presidential election are in the books, and now that the dust has settled, we’ve been graced with a tiny bit of clarity about the crowded field of 24 candidates (even if not all of the candidates made the cut for the debates themselves). With this many hopefuls in the running, you might expect current polling numbers to show support diffused widely over the field. But in fact a clear top tier of candidates has already emerged — namely Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and (after a well-received debate performance) Kamala Harris.
What’s a struggling candidate to do in circumstances like these? Well at this early stage, where the field is still so wide that debates need to be split across multiple nights, your best bet is to try to simply differentiate yourself, any way you can. The problem is that with more than 20 other challengers to contend with, standing out from the crowd can be a challenge, especially when you’re often forced to spend a lot of your time affirming your support for the same policies as your opponents. Despite striving to carve out a unique space for themselves, most of the candidates’ soundbites and key messages ended up falling into a few relatively similar veins:
“I’m young, and I’m going to use some of my challengers here on stage as a convenient prop to illustrate that.”
As leaders in the Democratic party wrestle with internal debates about exactly what kind of candidate they need to field to maximize their chances of winning the White House in 2020, plenty of those in the field are all too happy to contrast their ages with those of both the president and some of their primary challengers.
Sen. Kamala Harris, referring to Joe Biden:
Mayor Pete Buttigieg:
Rep. Eric Swalwell:
“Enough with that Nancy Pelosi-style wait-and-see attitude, I’m going on the offensive against President Trump.”
It’s only natural to expect presidential candidates to attack the record of a sitting president running for reelection, but President Trump presents a unique case given the legal issues and investigations that have dogged his presidency thus far. Some of the candidates have clearly followed the Speaker’s lead in deciding that launching a full-bore assault is a losing political proposition, preferring to focus purely on policy positions instead. Others clearly see this as an area for them to be a differentiator and endear themselves to the portion of the party’s base that is raring to see more investigative or legal action taken against the president:
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke:
Sen. Michael Bennet:
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney:
“Forget about the pitfalls of ‘identity politics’ — racial and social justice issues need to be tackled head on.”
There’s still plenty of debate both inside and outside the Democratic party as to how it should conduct its outreach to the various minority voter groups that form the party’s traditional voting coalition. This is especially true given the bitter disputes as to what role it did or did not play in the party’s losses in 2016. But some candidates aren’t waiting for a consensus to emerge here, and are charging forward to try and own the conversation:
Mayor Bill de Blasio:
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro:
Author Marianne Williamson:
To be fair, standing out from the pack isn’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to winning any election. Often times it comes down just as much to a candidate’s presentation and the manner in which they get their messages across, rather than the messages themselves. But it’s still critically important not to get lost in the crowd, especially in these early stages of the campaign. And if these first debates are any indication, most of the candidates have their work cut out for them to craft unique policy positions and distinctive messages to accompany them if they want to stick around for future debate rounds.
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