The Democratic Party cannot underestimate how crucial picking the right candidate will be in 2020. This will not, unfortunately, be a case of kicking a ball into an open goal. Despite repeated gaffs, twitter outbursts and an ongoing investigation into his links with Russia, Trump remains a popular figure in Republican heartlands, if he can survive the current maelstrom around his presidency, the Democrats will still face an uphill task flipping the crucial red states they need to pave the path to the White House.
What candidate they pick will ultimately determine what electoral pathway will be open for them. It should be obvious as to who the democrats should be appealing too. Despite comfortably winning the popular vote, Hilary Clinton lost the election almost solely to her failure in appealing to the white, working class rust belt, the America of disused automobile assembly lines and Appalachian coal mines. Cities such as Flint in Michigan and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, tradition bastions of support for the blue-collar Democrats, proved fertile soil for Trump last year and will likely need to be won back by appealing to this same demographic.
However, there may be other routes too, methods that rely on flipping states with large Latino populations or increasing turnout amongst African Americans and women. It is clear what the Democrats need, a 38-vote swing in the Electoral College, and the candidates who might achieve this could do so via very different means:
The Rust Belt Route:
The Rust Belt has always been the traditional battle ground for presidential elections. Ohio and Pennsylvania are always bitterly contested. Flipping these two states on their own would be enough on the current electoral numbers to boot trump out of office.
This strategy would however be risky, the economic malaise in this area of the world has precipitated a steady drop in population which, in turn, has caused a decline in electoral votes to play for in the region. In 3 years, It may well not be enough just to take back Ohio and Pennsylvania if Wisconsin and Michigan stay in the Republican column. That feat would need a candidate who can bring together a coalition of everyone from dairy farmers to suburban veterans, rebuilding the “blue wall” that stretched across five states along the Canadian border.
These were largely states where Bernie Sanders claimed victory in the primaries last year, and the temptation among party loyalists will be to appoint his spiritual heir, the Massachusetts firebrand Elizabeth Warren. Warren has excited many on the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, with left-leaning liberals seeing her introduction of the Presidential Conflict of Interests Act to the Senate floor as a direct statement of intent regarding her opposition to Trump and her own presidential ambitions. But it is nevertheless unclear as to how exactly this East-Coast liberal can win over the struggling communities in Michigan and Wisconsin. If the DNC are looking for a candidate with more blue-collar appeal who can reverse Trump’s capture of the poor white voter, they could do worse than Ohio senator Sherrod Brown. Experienced, critical of unregulated free trade and famously protective of manufacturing jobs, Brown has all the right credentials to at least be considered for a place on the ticket in 2020 if the Democrats wish to take this route back to power.
The Western Route:
Alternatively, the Democrats could proceed with the tactics that they have been nurturing for the last decade and a half; consolidating the Latino vote in the hopes of turning Arizona and Texas into solid blue states. In many respects, Texas is an interesting source of opportunities for democrats as it is only low turnout amongst minority voters that is keeping the state Republican at all. Whites now make up less than half the state’s population, allowing Democratic legislators to have firm control over not just cities like El Paso and Dallas but also the Rio Grande Valley and increasingly wealthy Latinos in the suburbs. Even if no other state in the union were to change hands, Texas by itself could get the democratic candidate to 270 electoral votes, If Arizona followed that would all but confirm the presidency.
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of big name Latino senators and governors that could be realistic contenders. However, There are two Colorado democrats who could excite western liberals enough to swing the vote in an area where turnout is the crucial factor. The Centennial State’s Governor John Hickenlooper is the kind of down-to-earth, apple pie American who can appeal to rural and suburban voters. More crucially, his admirable stance against Trump’s immigration policies and travel ban executive order have earned him deserved plaudits among Latino voters that don’t usually vote.
The other, more compelling contender is Senator Michael Bennet. An unashamed liberal democrat with strong bipartisan credentials, Bennet is the kind of figure who can appeal to the middle class Austin suburbs just as easily as the trendier gentrifications in Denver or Phoenix. Bennet’s other key strength is his steadfast reputation as a senator who can “get things done” by cutting through the partisan posturing in Congress.
But Bennet’s appeal has more substance than merely being able to reach across partisan divides and appeal to key voting demographics, Hillary tried those tactics too. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that voters are not impressed by hubris or candidates that appear only to be in it for themselves. Liberals can knock Trump all they like, but his campaign message of ‘making America great again’ was at least a message. To intents and purposes, Clinton didn’t have that, Hillary’s campaign for president didn’t seem to articulate anything more meaningful than that she wanted to be president.
The Democratic Party needs a candidate who can get it in touch with its soul, a fact made even more frustrating by the current runners and riders all being sounded out for their ‘fundraising capabilities’ rather than their political positions. The names doing the rounds among the DNC talking heads; Corey Booker, Terry McAuliffe, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Michelle Obama would all likely be just as disastrous as Clinton. Many of them rely on the same dodgy donors and Super-PAC’s that working-class voters despise.
Picking candidates like this would really be akin to shooting themselves in the foot. Flipping the swing states will mean connecting with trump voters on the economy and convincing democrats not to stay at home, and another vacuous Clintonian won’t achieve this. The great irony of US politics is that most Americans still identify with the Democrats, they just need a candidate who can harness that potential. Two candidates stand out as likely to achieve this; Sherrod Brown and Michael Bennet. Whether they have the determination to stand, and the DNC have the wisdom to support them if they do, is another matter entirely.