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The Democratic primary field: And now there are five

Commentary: Politically Aware

The first Republican primary debate is next Thursday. The winners are already clear: Fox News and pollsters. With Fox News limiting the debate to the top ten candidates in an average of national surveys, every release of data will generate clicks for the network and the number crunchers. If Fox News is smart, they’ll roll out the final participant list in a LeBron-esque “Decision” special with a Family Feud board. While we wait for the big reveal, it’s worth looking at the Democratic primary field, which has quietly expanded to five candidates.

Hillary Clinton. Most pundits call the former secretary of state and senator from New York the “frontrunner” preceded by adjectives on a spectrum from current to dominant to prohibitive. She leads her closest competition by 40 points (Real Clear Politics Average) in national primary polls, and maintains smaller leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Despite a run of negative coverage about her email server, she bests all Republican candidates (well, those of the 16 who she has been polled against) by at least four points.

Her only speed bump was a spate of Quinnipiac polls showing most major Republican candidates beating her in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. On the upside, she can win without those swing states if she keeps the rest of President Obama’s map and Florida or Ohio.

Bernie Sanders. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the Vermont senator stepped into the space to Clinton’s left created when Sen. Elizabeth Warren refused to run. Few thought an Independent and proud socialist with hair crazier than Donald Trump would have much impact, but Sanders appears to have captured the hearts of the progressives. He has narrowed the gap against Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire and now also defeats many Republicans in general election match-ups.

Democratic liberals have fallen in love with someone in every recent election: Sen. Bill Bradley (2000), Gov. Howard Dean (2004), and Sen. Barack Obama (2008). What set President Obama apart was his ability to add other constituencies to his primary coalition, most notably African American Democrats. (Clinton was also out- maneuvered by Obama on delegate math, a problem she will no doubt fix.) Should Sanders win in largely white Iowa and New Hampshire, he still will still need to break Clinton’s hold on Latinos, African Americans, women and labor. Threatening to leave his Netroots panel when confronted with #BlackLivesMatter activists didn’t help.

Martin O’Malley. The former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor was supposed to be the liberal alternative to Clinton. He stumbled out of the gate in 2014 when his lieutenant governor lost to a Republican in deep blue Maryland. Then the Freddie Gray case put the spotlight on law enforcement in Baltimore, reaching back to his time as mayor. To top it off, he may have handled Netroots worse than Sanders, telling activists that “white lives matter” and “all lives matter.” Somewhere in his political career, he might have learned that making a technically accurate statement doesn’t make up for missing the point.

Jim Webb. The former Virginia senator appears to be running to both sides of Clinton, to the extent that he is running at all. As a veteran and former Navy secretary, he is credibly to her left on avoiding military intervention, but somewhat incredibly to her, and the party’s, right on social issues, as evidenced by his odd comments on the Confederate flag. It will be interesting to see how he handles the “Why do you want to be president?” question given that his disdain for politics led him to leave the Senate after one term.

Lincoln Chafee. Chafee held a Rhode Island Senate seat as a liberal Republican (1999-2007), lost re-election to Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, successfully ran for governor as an Independent (2010-2014), and became a Democrat (2013) but chose not to seek re-election. So Chafee is running for “his” party’s presidential nomination in his first race as a Democrat. That would probably disqualify Chafee, except that Sanders is doing the same thing. Chafee’s bigger problem is that the three preceding sentences may be all you know about him.

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Posted by on Jul 30, 2015. Filed under Around the City, Bottom Highlights, Politically Aware. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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