Friday, September 11, 2015

The State of the Race: The Democratic Primary

Wednesday, we did the rundown of the Republicans most likely to land the nomination in my estimation.  Today, we're going to do the same for the Democrats.  It's worth noting that with the Democrats, a few months ago I thought that any such list would be a bit of a joke.  In March, for example, the idea that anyone other than Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton being the nominee was laughable at best, but in the wake of an email scandal that has eroded her trustworthiness numbers (not to mention her position in Iowa and New Hampshire), it's time to start taking seriously the idea that Mrs. Clinton will not be the nominee, or at the very least could be routed on the way to being the first female contender for president.  As a result, here is my list of the five people most likely to be the Democratic nominee for president, with Number One being the most likely to achieve.

5. Martin O'Malley

Gov. O'Malley has had pretty much a joke of a rollout lately.  With rumors that he's scaling back his campaign already, O'Malley's eggs likely rest in a stronger-than-expected early performance in a state like Iowa, which seems to be where he is focusing a solid chunk of his time.  O'Malley's actual best chances rest in the fact that he's not Bernie Sanders but he could be Hillary Clinton if there's no other grownups in the room.  The reality is (sorry Bernie fans, it's time for the tough love) that a Socialist from Vermont who isn't even a Democrat is not an acceptable choice to a convention hall dominated by superdelegates (unlike the Republican Party primary, the Democratic one has some rigging issues that they can pull if they need to, though it would look terrible if they did, so there's less risk of a Trump situation), much less a general electorate that still is not comfortable electing a man with that title. As a result, if the field remains where it is, O'Malley as a two-term governor who has no scandals and is bland but can resonate with moderate voters, is the only viable option if Hillary Clinton implodes and we don't have another candidate in the race.  It's a very, very slim option (O'Malley would have to go through the humiliating process of waiting to see if any of the White Knight scenarios don't emerge, and quite frankly I think the White Knight list might even include the likes of Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand before O'Malley and not just the party's biggest non-presidents), but it's at least there.

4. The White Knight Scenario

This is the stuff that political nerds dream about, and indeed I've written an article or two about it myself.  Essentially the idea is that if Joe Biden passes and Hillary Clinton continues to falter, the Democratic Party will look to past nominees or major stars in the party to try and stop Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination (again, a Rubio vs. Sanders battle for the White House would guarantee not only a Republican White House, but possibly a Republican Supreme Court for the next thirty years depending on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health).  The names most frequently mentioned are Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Al Gore, and Senator Elizabeth Warren.  While I personally think Warren is just out of the race (she's been adamant about not running, is untested on the national stage, and quite frankly I don't know that she'd be that superb of a candidate), the other two I could see plausibly riding in at the last minute.  It's worth noting that every cycle this scenario comes up, of course (in 2012 it was Jeb Bush/Chris Christie, in 2004 it was Wesley Clark, in 1972 it was Ted Kennedy) and rarely does it actually happen, but a candidate like Hillary Clinton doesn't falter every single day.  Of the three I think Kerry would be the most interested (he spends every day one chair away from the president, after all), though this is a longshot situation and one where Joe Biden would have right of first refusal.

3. Bernie Sanders

Sanders, like Donald Trump, cannot be ignored any longer.  His numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire are impressive, and though he still has trouble with several key constituencies for Democrats (namely African-Americans, Latinos, and women who are pretty much the bulk of the left's base if you don't count GLBT and college-age voters), to count the Vermont senator out at this point is a fool's errand.  The problem with Sanders is that, in many ways like Trump, the powers-that-be don't want him to be the nominee, and that matters, particularly in a party where Sanders is unlikely to get almost any superdelegate support.  Sanders may not be Trump, as several keep pointing out and he's not (he doesn't engage in the same vitriol, and as a sitting US Senator who caucuses with the Democratic Party, the left has more responsibility to own up to Sanders as one of their own than the establishment GOP does with Trump at this point), but he does have similar problems in the sense that the DNC doesn't want him to be the nominee.  There's a reason that people like Kerry and Gore are being trotted out, and it's not nostalgia for their runs for the White House, it's because they seem like better alternatives than Sanders losing in a blowout.  Sanders will have to improve with African-American and Latino voters, it should be noted, in order to win the nomination (Hillary Clinton still clobbers him in a state like South Carolina, and the Midwest/New England don't have enough voters to overcome both Clinton's superdelegate lead AND her advantages in the South and Southwest/Rocky Mountain states), which I don't see signs of, but he's definitely running a campaign that has more fire than Clinton's.

2. Joe Biden

The Vice President is likely to make an announcement in the next month or so if he's running for president, and I'd go with it be a 50/50 proposition at this point.  The VP would be the oldest man to assume the office of president, and after the recent death of his son one wonders if he has the stamina to make such a run (or whether his wife Jill truly wants him in the race), but he cannot be ignored by any means.  Make no mistake, the Clinton camp is more worried about Biden than Sanders at this point, and there's a reason that she's apologized for the email scandal in recent days-it's a ploy to show the DNC and in particular the Obama administration (which seems to favor Clinton to Biden, even if the president may personally be closer with the latter) that she's still the best bet the Democrats have of winning an elusive third term in the White House (Obama is frequently concerned with legacy, perhaps more than any other president since Nixon, and having a Democrat succeed him is a great way to cement that legacy).  Biden's best chance continues to be as the White Knight that comes in if Clinton becomes too toxic, and so the next month will be crucial for him.  Despite what some pundits say, I don't think he'll need a huge campaign operation to take out Sanders considering the loyalties to him within the party and his universal name recognition, but Clinton as she sits today is still not someone Biden can beat in an election.

1. Hillary Clinton

She remains at the top for a reason-there's still no denying that Hillary Clinton is the favorite to be the Democratic nominee, even if it's questionable whether she's the favorite for November 2016 anymore.  I talked about Jeb Bush being the immovable object yesterday, and that goes doubly for Clinton.  She does too well in the key Democratic constituencies, has run the best invisible primary (locking up delegates at every corner and raising gargantuan sums of money), and has too many advantages in terms of "it's time" that are difficult for Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden to take out.  It's been said many times throughout this primary, but no one can beat Hillary Clinton except herself, and the email scandal has been coming close to that, but it still hasn't hit the point where Clinton is going to be taken down, and I think the Benghazi hearing next month is fraught with a lot of upsides for the former First Lady.  After all, the Democrats rally hard to the Clintons when they think they're being maligned (it's been happening for 25 years now), and I can't imagine that Trey Gowdy's hearing will sail through without incident.  After all, there's a reason that O'Malley and Sanders have been reluctant to attack Clinton the way the Republicans have gone after each other-it doesn't jive with the party, all of whom seem to like Clinton and love the idea of a woman being president, even if they aren't all behind her candidacy.  That inability to go negative is a huge asset to Clinton, and one that may well win her the nomination in addition to her other advantages.  I see reason to be alarmed about the general, for sure, but not about Clinton's ability to sink the basket for the nomination.

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