Time for the Democratic presidential candidates list! Let’s be honest here: this list won’t be nearly as extensive as the Republican list, which I had to break into two separate blog posts. For that I am thankful, because finding that many embarrassing pictures of politicians takes a lot of time and mental scarring (seriously, Google “Chris Christie gif” and tell me how many things you can’t un-see). That notwithstanding, while the list may be shorter as far as names go, each candidate is going to get considerably more attention than did those on the Republican list. The Democratic field is much less populated, and there are some fascinating intricacies that make it a completely different monster from the GOP side of the aisle. Now then, let’s get this (Democratic) party started!
Rich, can you give me the first candidate, please?
Lincoln Chafee, COME ON DOWN!! For posterity’s sake, I thought I’d start with one of the lesser-known candidates. Full disclosure: until a week ago, I had absolutely no idea who Lincoln Chafee is. None. I had never heard his name or any mention of things he’s accomplished. So after some thorough research, I’ve learned quite a bit about this mystery candidate. Aside from being the governor of Rhode Island for one term and a Senator, Chafee has a surprisingly consistent socially liberal platform. He’s been a long-time supporter of the LBGTQ community and a strong advocate for increased education funding, which puts him in a good place with a lot of Democratic voters.
More interesting, though, is his stance on foreign policy. Chafee and Rand Paul are similar in this regard, in that they both favor non-interventionist policies in the Middle East. For independent voters who want Paul’s “I got it from Papa Ron” foreign policy, but not his socially conservative opinions, Chafee is a nice counterweight to his Republican colleague in the Senate.
Unfortunately for Lincoln, he doesn’t have a strong base that will rally behind him. That may be due to his limited political experience, but he will have to build a grassroots movement around himself, and then put forward a strategy and establish himself as a candidate. His problem is not necessarily that he has bad policies or that he couldn’t be a legitimate candidate. I think his problem is that he’s not well-known enough to make a significant splash in a field that already has some pretty big names on the ticket.
Who’s next on the short list, Rich?
Martin O’Malley, COME ON DOWN!! Now we’re on to the real challengers. O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, has crafted an image of himself that is essentially an anti-Hillary Clinton persona. Whether this hurts or helps him in the campaign remains to be seen, but it is definitely one of the best (if not the best) strategy he could employ given his competition.
As for his policies and standing as his own candidate, Martin is an interesting character. His early campaign material puts strong emphasis on the younger generation, which will likely be his biggest voting demographic. O’Malley, at age 52, is actually the youngest candidate in the field (the next oldest is Chafee, at a whole ten years older than O’Malley). This will be a big advantage as he tries to counter Hillary, who many pundits are saying is old news for the Democratic Party. For the left-leaning voters that want a fresh face, O’Malley will likely be the lead candidate. For God’s sake, the man is taking selfies with college students in one of his videos. He’s no idiot, and he knows what his strengths are. He’s playing very well on the youth crowd, even this early in the primary season.
Now, aside from strategy in the campaign, O’Malley will have an interesting hill to climb when it comes to policy. And that hill isn’t the hill of shaping his own policy or crafting it for a campaign — he’s already done both of those things with great success. Martin’s climb will be the struggle to present a counterargument to Hillary (and Bernie Sanders, who I’ll have more on in just a moment) that appeals to younger generations as well as the working middle class Democratic voter bloc. Unfortunately for O’Malley, every Democratic candidate (and most Republican candidates, for that matter) is going to try to be the “champion of the middle class.” That’s just common sense. Middle class voters make up the largest section of voters in any other class, and they’ve shown up in droves to vote for Democrats in the last two presidential elections. It isn’t enough to say “I’m going to focus on the middle class.” Okay, cool. Hillary Clinton is probably going to say the same thing. And so is Sanders. And Chafee, for that matter.
O’Malley will have to point to his record as governor of Maryland, where he pushed forward one of the most progressive agendas of any governor in recent memory. Martin’s tax increases and pushes for substantially more education funding led to higher wages, lower crime rates, and stronger infrastructure. It’s safe to say that, as far as the left is concerned, he’s got experience. For O’Malley, the issue won’t be one of “I don’t have a strong policy record.” No, it will be more an issue of “my policies would be better than those of Clinton or Sanders.” However, I will say that he’ll have his work cut out for him when it comes to foreign policy. Because he’s never served on the federal level, O’Malley has no tangible foreign policy to put forward, and that could seriously hurt his chances as he goes up against his archnemesis, former Secretary of State Clinton. The Maryland governor will have to come up with some kind of counter for Hillary’s years of experience abroad. And that, for the former governor, will be where the real fight lies.
Come on Rich, give me a new face!
Jim Webb, COME ON DOWN! Mr. Webb, a former Senator (Virginia, one term) is sort of the shotgun candidate, in that he has his hands in almost ever demographic area of the left’s voting bloc. Webb, who has been Secretary of the Navy, Assistant Secretary of Defense, a journalist, author, filmmaker, and professor, has held quite a few varying titles. This may play out well for him when he begins his campaign (he hasn’t officially announced his candidacy yet, but it’s very likely to happen in the next few weeks). Because he was a Senator, Webb will have a strong platform to stand on when the policy debate begins. His voting record in Congress indicates that he’s a true advocate for market regulation and labor gains, which will help as he tries to appeal to the working class.
Foreign policy seems to be a common thread with these candidates, so let’s look at Webb’s platform. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much to go on here, other than his support for lifting the embargo the U.S. placed on Cuba decades ago. His Israel/Palestine record is somewhat murky, so it’ll be interesting to see him shape that into his own little chunk of policy. Webb differs from some of the other candidates here, in that he has a decent amount of experience in foreign policy, but his stances aren’t entirely clear.
As for social issues, Jim falls in line with basically every other candidate in the Democratic field: pro-choice, marriage equality advocate, and limited government intrusion of privacy. While the GOP candidates will be scratching and clawing over issues like gay marriage, a vast majority of the Democratic primaries will likely be taken up by domestic and foreign policies, which should make for an intense battle. I’ll be honest: I don’t see Jim Webb beating Clinton or Sanders or O’Malley. He’s just too late to the game and he doesn’t have the star power (believe me, I can’t believe I used that phrase in regards to a candidate for public office) as his opponents. But he may surprise me with how much of a fight he puts up before backing out.
I’m on a roll here, Rich! Who’s next?
Hillary Clinton, COME ON DOWN! Well, you knew it was coming, so don’t act surprised. Hillary Clinton, former first lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, is running for president. There’s been a lot of buildup to her campaign. Seriously, the media was already talking about her running the day after the 2012 election. Everyone on both sides of the aisle expected her to run, and with good reason: she’s well-known, has an unusually strong political background, and she would definitely pull in a large number of Democratic and undecided voters. So now that she’s officially announced her candidacy, let’s dissect the Hillary Clinton campaign as it currently stands.
I know I’ve mentioned foreign policy for basically every candidate in this list, but it’s an important area where Clinton will likely take the trophy. She’s been a Secretary of State during intense negotiations and actions in the Middle East, and she’s personally dealt with world leaders on important global issues. Sanders and Webb will throw some stones at Hillary in the primaries, but they’d be wise to avoid a foreign policy debate with the woman.
Now then, on to one of the more important issues that will be the center of this election: economics. Clinton has a serious advantage in her husband, former president Bill, whose economic policies in the 90’s led the U.S. government to a $100 billion surplus when he left office. Regardless of current party affiliation, Bill Clinton has very high standing with most Americans who lived through his presidency. Hillary can draw on that, but she’ll have to be careful to also shape her own policy moving forward. But the sentiment of a good president who did right by the middle class is definitely in the corner of Hillary. She hasn’t given an extensive layout of her platform just yet, but she did mention in a speech at a community college that there are four big “pillars” she wants to tackle as president. One of those pillars is “building the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” which will likely entail some regulations, wage increases, and tightening the reins on corporations. This, in turn, will give her good footing with the more progressive base, while also reaching toward the middle.
Surprisingly (at least to me), Hillary has made it a point that she wants to seriously pursue campaign finance reform, to “fix our dysfunctional political system.” If she can push that point harder than Bernie Sanders — something I don’t believe is humanly possible — she’ll grab even more liberal voters. Especially after the multibillion dollar 2012 campaigns, an overturn of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is on the minds of many Americans. They see how broken the system is, how rigged the game is, and Clinton will play on that. I doubt that she’ll propose anything more liberal than Sanders or even O’Malley when it comes to this issue, but given her favored status as a potential Democratic nominee, she’s picking up a liberal card that she may not even need to pick up.
Make no mistake about it: Hillary Clinton is the candidate to beat. She’s topped nearly every poll and she’s got a humongous war chest built up for this election. Luckily for her, she won’t have to spend a large chunk of it in the primaries, unlike her Republican cohorts. She’s off to a stronger start than her Democratic opponents just by nature of her name and record. Whether you agree with that being right or wrong, she’s the frontrunner. Realistically, I only see one candidate that could surprise us all and knock her off the podium. Of course, he just so happens to be the last name on the list.
Who might that be, Rich?
Bernie Sanders, COME ON DOWN!! There had been rumors about Sanders’s presidential hopes for some time, but I have to admit that I was surprised to see him actually announce his candidacy. And that wasn’t because he isn’t a viable candidate, either. I just always associated Sanders with Elizabeth Warren, who has adamantly said she wants to remain in the Senate, where she’s doing good work. But Sanders appears to have his eyes locked onto a much bigger office, and he’s going to make a major impact on the Democratic side. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Sanders is a character. At 73, he’s the oldest candidate in the race. But don’t let that fool you; Bernie has quite a bit of fight left in him. Self-described as a Democratic Socialist, Sanders doesn’t pull punches. He’s been an advocate for some of the most liberal policies in the last two decades. In a launch speech a few weeks ago, Bernie talked about getting the minimum wage up, raising taxes on the wealthy, and free college. That’s miles ahead of Clinton, who has barely skimmed the surface on debt-free college. Sanders isn’t toning down his message for the sake of looking like a moderate; he knows that he’s on the far left, and he embraces that.
Now, normally a candidate that far on either side of the aisle wouldn’t get much attention or high polling numbers. But here’s where it gets interesting: in a recent Wisconsin straw poll, Sanders nabbed 41 percent of the vote, with Clinton getting 49%. FORTY-ONE PERCENT. That figure surprised a lot of pundits and basically everyone on the left, who thought Sanders wouldn’t even come close to breaching Hillary’s frontrunner status. It may only be one poll, but it’s very encouraging for the Bernie 2016 camp as we inch close to the primaries. Clinton may be a strong favorite, but if she gets too cocky (insert Monica Lewinsky joke here), Bernie could pull a Barack Obama, and steal the Democratic nomination from her. She’s on a frozen lake, and Bernie is slowly melting the ice beneath her feet.
And that’s the list! Like I said, the Democratic field is much smaller (likely thanks to the looming intimidation factor of a Clinton campaign), so there’s not much to dive into. I do have a few final thoughts, however. First of all, Martin O’Malley is going to be fun to watch. He’s running as an anti-Hillary Clinton, but I honestly don’t know what he’ll do if he gets the nomination. At that point, Hillary Clinton doesn’t matter. He’ll have to shift from that image to one that’s more representative of the Democratic Party and less lone-wolf-y. Chafee and Webb won’t get the nomination, but they’ll certainly try. I see Chafee dropping out of the primaries, then Webb, leaving the three big dogs to battle it out. Clinton will have to run a tight campaign. She knows that she’s got name recognition, but if she flaunts that too much, or acts like she deserves to just be handed the nomination, those supporters will turn on her in a second.
Sanders, on the other hand, will probably be the biggest wrench in Hillary’s engine. He’ll pull the debates further left and challenge both Clinton and O’Malley on true progressive issues on a national stage. How the other two candidates handle that will ultimately determine how many Democratic voters they can get in their respective camps. I’m admittedly more excited to watch the first few GOP primary debates, just because there are a nearly infinite number of candidates that are going to spout absolutely ridiculous horseshit, and I will get at least some comedic relief out of it. But I will be watching the Democratic side very closely, especially the growing Sanders-Clinton feud. Only time will tell if Bernie can pull off the impossible and unseat the highly favored candidate (and potentially the first female president) of yesteryear.