A wide Democratic field

Party leaders seek to capitalise on soaring anti-Trump sentiment to enter the primaries

January 23, 2019 12:02 am | Updated November 13, 2021 08:51 am IST

As expected, the array of presidential hopefuls for the 2020 U.S. election has widened considerably on the Democratic Party side, with at least eight candidates declared running, another six likely to run, and a further eight potential entrants sitting on the fence. Some analysts put the total size of the potential Democratic aspirational pool at 34. The latest addition to the list was Kamala Harris , a first-term Senator from California and daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Ms. Harris enters this crowded arena with the heft of her star power, having accumulated considerable political capital through her tough questioning of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees — including then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who admitted that being grilled by Ms. Harris made him “nervous” — and other notables. Nevertheless, she was beaten to it by the New Year’s Day announcement of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a top-tier Democrat who also took on Mr. Trump over policy issues but attracted criticism for an unnecessary controversy over a DNA test to establish her Native American ancestry. While it is likely that the two Senators will remain on the ballot when the first state, Iowa, heads to the primaries in early February 2020, most entrants between now and then are expected to drop out as their popularity and donor-support figures come into sharper focus.


That is the real question at the heart of America’s complex Democratic primary: why are so many candidates throwing their hats in the ring at this juncture, and what does it tell us about the challenge that the ultimate nominee will pose to Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects? First, whoever wins the nomination will inherit the burden — and benefits — of the considerable anti-Trump sentiment that is swirling across diverse pockets of the country. An early indication of this likely outcome lies in the fact that most prospective candidates have announced policy positions that are situated in the centre-left of the American political spectrum, positioning themselves against Trump on immigration, health care, criminal justice and more. An example of such a policy position is Medicare-for-All, which not only Ms. Harris and Ms. Warren, but some newcomers too, such as Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, consider a part of their core agenda. Second, the Democratic universe is enthusiastic about this race as Mr. Trump not only lost the popular vote in 2016, by 46% to 48%, nearly three million votes, but also, currently, has the worst net approval rating of any post-World War II U.S. President. However, a big challenge that looms for Democratic candidates is to gauge the way independent voters, who often keep their voting preferences secret from pollsters, lean. These voters were the undoing of Hillary Clinton in the Rust Belt states, and they could again tip the scales back toward the nativist populism of their Commander-in-Chief.

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