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Est. April 5, 2002
May 02, 2019 - Issue 787

Missing ‘Wow’ Factor Among
2020 Dem Presidential Candidates

"There is a lack of ‘Wow,’ - significant feelings
of admiration, delight, and excitement - about
the more than 20 announced and/or rumored
candidates for the office."

A careful assessment of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates has revealed that there is a lack of ‘Wow,’ - significant feelings of admiration, delight, and excitement - about the more than 20 announced and/or rumored candidates for the office. Yet, recent polls are showing that 54% of the Democratic base has yet to line up behind a specific candidate, which should concern those who want to defeat Trump.

Even so, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has declared that candidates who have “earned at least 1 percent of the vote in three national or early-primary-state polls conducted by qualifying pollsters or who have received donations from at least 65,000 unique donors, including at least 200 individual donors in at least 20 states” have qualified to be on the stage for the first two presidential debates. So far, 16 candidates have now met at least one of the two criteria, and at least six candidates have cleared both the polling and fundraising thresholds,” with several more expected to meet both criteria before the first scheduled debate.

The last ‘Wow’ Democratic presidential candidates were Gov. William Jefferson Clinton in 1992 and Sen. Barack Hussein Obama in 2008. Clinton made voters overlook his numerous extra-marital affairs (which ended the presidential candidacy of Sen. Gary Hart in 1984). Obama made voters ignore his middle name – Hussein - which Republicans tried to smear him with by associating him with the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Both strategies failed, and they were easily elected to the U.S. presidency.

Clinton and Obama were also able to energize the Democratic youth base and to reach out to the huge audiences of late night TV. Both likewise had wives who were major assets at critical times: Clinton, when Hillary appeared with him on 60 Minutes, the prime time Sunday night TV show, to refute allegations of marital infidelity, removing it as a campaign issue, and Obama, when Michelle’s appearances before African American women’s groups locked in their overwhelming support, at a time when many black leaders were questioning whether or not Obama (whose mother was white) was black enough.

The aforementioned former presidents’ similarly were and are spellbinding orators who connected with liberal, conservative, Democratic, and Republican voters alike. These complimentary advantages placed both on a glide path to victory.

Contemporary Democratic hopefuls for the presidency have little in common, in political skills and appeal, with the last two Democrats to occupy the White House. Although it is early in the primary process, the race is still wide open, despite former Vice President Joe Biden’s 39% ranking, a commanding 20-point lead over his nearest rival. Since his entry into the race last Thursday, the polls show him leading his opponents in nearly every group within the Democratic base - African Americans, whites, minorities, etc.

Biden is quickly raising large amounts of cash, having outdistanced every announced candidate in the first 24 hours of his candidacy. But Biden has been chosen by the participating Democratic electorate largely because of their angst about the Trump presidency and their perceived view that Trump and his family are personally corrupt and that he, Trump, will do anything that financially benefits him and them.

Many Democrats believe that Biden is the only Democrat who can beat Trump, and they are currently willing to overlook his past gaffes and mistakes. According to the Quinnipiac Poll, one of the nation’s most respected, Biden’s most formidable rivals are:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (12%);

Sen. Bernie Sanders (11%);

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (10%);

Sen. Kamala Harris (8%);

former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (6%);

Sens. Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Reps. Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), and Citizen Andrew Yang all polling between 0% and 2%.

The reality is that the weakest candidates in this group are unlikely to break from the pack, and two of the remaining also-rans, Seth Moulton and Tim Ryan, lost favor after failing in their insurgency to overthrow House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as the Democratic leader. Let’s examine the top eight competitors in turn.

After being drummed out of two previous presidential contests in 1988 and 2008, due to plagiarism while in law school and on the campaign trail and sloppy campaign organizing, Biden, at 76 years of age, has launched his final bid for the presidency. But like the Uncle Joe of old, he has other Achilles’ heels - making some women feel uncomfortable over his intrusion into their personal space over the years and inappropriate non-sexual touching.

The Anita Hill controversy during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court was his darkest hour. He has been unwilling to accept his responsibility in this debacle although he has been given numerous opportunities to offer Atty. Hill a direct apology for his handling of the situation. Biden has consistently refused to accept his failure, as Judiciary Committee Chair, to rein in the sexist and racist disdain to which she was subjected.

During his call to Atty. Hill shortly before he got into the race, he apologized for the incident as if he were an innocent bystander, rather than offering her his personal regret. In this era of #MeToo, he will likely pay a political price for his reluctance to express sincere contrition if he is able to secure the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Elizabeth Warren, who has surged in recent weeks, has the best detailed policy agenda and made an outstanding showing at last week’s “She the People Summit” of women of color in Houston, Texas at Historically Black Texas Southern University. Her black colleague, Kamala Harris, muffed the opportunity by being too colloquial in addressing an audience that was tailor made for her. She still has time to recover from this blunder with her natural base since the first presidential primaries are nearly a year away.

Bernie Sanders, who led in most of the polls prior to Biden’s formal entrance into the race, is sinking dramatically. Like Biden, he also refuses to address his liabilities. At the “She the People Summit,” he was a disaster! Asked what he would do for black women, he responded that he was at the 1963 March on Washington and cited Medicare for All as his solution to the difficulties they experience. His key campaign staff remains comprised of all white males, and he apparently sees no reason to adjust to the new demographic Democratic realities. Bernie is a relic of the past that believed that liberal white folks could always speak for blacks and other people of color.

Indiana Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is the lone bright spot approaching the factor of ‘Wow.’ He is thoughtful and has been on point in responding to any questions that come his way. Buttigieg has also adroitly handled his LGBTQ status, and his husband, Chasten, has proven to be a significant benefit on the campaign trail. His shortcomings may be highlighted with a deeper dive into his relationships with South Bend’s African American community. But for now, he is on the come up. Buttigieg has eclipsed Beto O’Rourke as the current political flavor of the month. He is more thoughtful than Beto, pushing his competitor further down in the polls.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker are most likely to be waylaid by their support for charter schools and other private-sector public education reforms. Klobuchar has been very quiet about her position to date, while Booker has a long record of loudly championing charter and voucher schools and demonizing teachers working in public schools. He has been a leading black face for the corporate Cartel of education reformers, and now he is diligently trying to hide that fact. Both he and Klobuchar have to answer to teachers and their unions as the race progresses, and it is unlikely to end well for either of them. Though considered a major player when he came into the race, Booker has virtually no chance of separating himself from the pack because of his past sins against public education. He is now paying a political price.

The remaining 2020 Democratic aspirants, Reps. Castro and Gabbard, Gov. Inslee, and Andrew Yang who float around 1% in the polls are only mentioned because they have gained some notice in the polls. The other minor contenders will be gone after the first primaries or before. Finally, it would be best if they left the race now, along with Klobuchar, O’Rourke, and Booker, whose time has not come; otherwise, the entire group will gum up the 2020 Democratic primary, fueling Trump’s reelection, unless he stumbles badly. Nonetheless, the ‘Wow’ is still missing from a generally lackluster field. Hopefully, things will change soon.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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