Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 in large part due to the enthusiasm of younger voters who saw the then-46-year-old Senator as a chance for something new in American politics. This enthusiasm counted not only in votes, but also in activism, boosting Obama in both presidential elections. When Obama retires in fourteen months, though, Democrats are beginning to realize that their current leadership looks more like the cast of Cocoon than ever before, as The Hill reports in an article headlined, “Dems search for Fountain of Youth“:
Democrats lean heavily on young voters to win elections, but their leading candidates for the White House are 68-year-old Hillary Clinton and 74-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The two other Democrats who were often implored to enter the race are Vice President Biden, 72, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 66.
Democrats are led on Capitol Hill by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) — who are both 75.
Pelosi’s top two lieutenants are 76-year-old Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and 75-year-old Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.). In comparison, Reid’s expected successor as Democratic leader in the next Congress is a relative spring chicken: Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is 64.
The issue of aging leadership in the House and Senate gets chalked up to the dramatic losses in state legislatures and governorships suffered by Democrats in the Age of Obama. It’s not that simple, though, and there is a chicken-and-egg argument to be made. After the devastating midterm losses in 2010 –largely driven by Obama’s push of ObamaCare over the objections of the American electorate — Democrats still had plenty of younger House and Senate members for potential leadership positions. They could have at least started the process by moving Pelosi and Reid out to pasture and opening up lower-rung positions in leadership.
Instead, Democrats stuck with Pelosi not just after one disastrous cycle in which they lost a majority after just four years in control, but three losing cycles for House Democrats. In the upper chamber, Senate Democrats stuck with Reid despite losing two of three cycles and eventually control of the Senate. It’s not as if the combination of Pelosi and Reid project a preternatural air of youth, either; their image comes straight out of American Gothic.
Now, even with Reid retiring and Pelosi refusing to do so, the youth movement in Democratic leadership is coming too little and far too late to deal with Obama’s retirement. Compare this to the transition made in the House to Paul Ryan, and the average age of Republican contenders for the presidency. The Democrats’ woes about the age of their presidential contenders may be somewhat more related to losses at the state level over the last six years, but it’s more attributable to their donor class allowing themselves to get locked into a Hillary Clinton Coronation 2.0 project starting over two years ago.
What happens to the youth vote in 2016, with Democratic leadership looking more like the Soviet politburo on a parade review stand? It won’t automatically become Republican, of course, although finding a younger nominee as a contrast might capture more of their energy than usual for the GOP. It does mean that it’s very unlikely that Democrats can count on a millennial wave to lift them in November 2016, and that may be a huge problem for a party that has had two successive crushing defeats in national elections without Obama on the ticket.