The Democratic presidential primary is becoming more and more about identity politics instead of whose ideas are better for the country. POLITICO reported this morning that candidates are becoming more and more likely to cite their race or gender, as a way to potentially connect with voters.
Aides and allies of Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — as well as Julián Castro — have increasingly sounded alarms about whether any other candidate can beat Trump. And Harris, Booker and Castro have been telegraphing for weeks that they would take their campaigns in a more race-conscious direction.
“What we need to talk about right now in this primary is which candidate can actually assemble the coalition we need to win, and that’s a big concern right now with who is leading the polls,” a Harris official said.
The new orientation is animated by doubts surrounding the durability of Joe Biden — a candidate with a broad-based coalition, anchored by his commanding lead with black voters — and a desire to blunt the momentum of a younger, white male candidate, Pete Buttigieg. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has failed to demonstrate any ability that he can win over black and brown voters, most starkly in a recent Quinnipiac University poll that pegged his support among African-American Democrats in South Carolina at 0 percent.
The change in strategy is apparently because Democrats are trying to get back to the “Hope and Change” coalition put together by former President Barack Obama: young voters, people of color, women, and others. Via Politico:
Like [California U.S. Senator Kamala] Harris, [New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory] Booker’s focus, undergirded by fears of nominating the wrong candidate, is on forging multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalitions that unite the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
“The key is really this: We know how to win. Forty-Four showed us how,” Bakari Sellers, the former state lawmaker in South Carolina, said of the road Obama carved in 2008. “Others may try different paths, but that’s unproven.”
It’s good in theory, however, it might be harder to find an Obama-like candidate. A part of this is partially due to the JFK-like following Obama enjoys among his supporters. The late Ted Sorensen compared Obama to JFK writing in The New Republic in 2007 he believed the two were similar based on their campaigns and message. National Review’s Rich Lowry, no fan of Obama, believed in 2017 the comparisons were really stylistic with youthful looks, rhetoric, and a potential sign of generational change as leading factors.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone with Obama-like charisma or attitude within the Democratic presidential field despite their best efforts. Beto O’Rourke did what he could to be hip, however, his almost win in Texas last year may have been more because U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has a likeability problem. Senator Cory Booker isn’t a bad talker but isn’t connecting with voters. Senator Kamala Harris’ record overshadows her rhetoric. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are populists although Warren tries to play both sides by discussing policy.
The Politico piece ends with the notion the best candidate Democrats may have is the one who spent eight years as Obama’s vice president: Joe Biden.
Biden told reporters last week that he was confident he would win both Iowa and New Hampshire. In South Carolina on Friday, Biden spoke of his lead there as durable, saying, “I’ve always had overwhelming support from African-Americans my whole career and actually, I do feel pretty confident.”
A Biden senior campaign adviser spent several minutes in a recent briefing with reporters talking about his steady polling, with the person pointing to “the resiliency of his vote.”
“There has been a resiliency and a stability to his vote both nationally and in individual states and it’s because he actually has a broad base of support,” the adviser said. “Unlike some of the other candidates whose votes are based on one demographic group, he actually is strong among almost every demographic group.”
The theory isn’t necessarily a bad one because Biden can swing from populist to establishment at the drop of a hat. It’s still important to remember, as President Donald Trump is wont to do, Biden has plenty of his own skeletons in the closet and isn’t the best debater. There is a reason why his poll numbers have been fluctuating although he’s still considered the frontrunner for the nomination.
One thing the Politico article does show is the negative mark successful candidates can have on their political party. Democrats longed for a new JFK and now a new Obama. Republicans longed for a new Ronald Reagan. Their shadows will long color the landscape and set bars others will stretch out their limbs in a desperate attempt to grasp instead of charting their own path forward.