A Snapshot Of The 2020 U.S. Election So Far
The race to win the White House in 2020 has felt like the longest election in American history – and that’s because it has been the longest election in American history. By as early as December 31st 2018, Elizabeth Warren had announced her candidacy (with corruption as her campaign’s central theme), and by March 5th 2019 there were almost 30 candidates running for the Democratic nomination. I mean, the global media literally had no choice but to saturate itself with hundreds of election-orientated stories per day. As I’ve said in the past, there’s no way for The Twenties Club to cover everything, and quite frankly I don’t want to. My plan is simply to extract the stuff you might find interesting, and then translate it into jargon that makes sense to both of us.
This particular moment – less than 48 hours before the third round of Democratic primary debates – feels like an appropriate junction in which to recap on where things are at and where they’re heading, in possibly the most important US presidential election of our lifetime (no pressure America).
In the debate on Friday, candidates will share one stage (as opposed to two) for the very first time. This is because the standards for qualifying for this debate (2% polling in at least four polls and at least 130,000 unique donors across 20 states) were a lot more rigorous than the first two rounds and thus forced multiple “second-tier” candidates to bow out of the race completely. Second-tier candidates are those who were always less likely to be front-runners and instead were running as a means to bring attention to a single issue – like Jay Inslee did with climate change – or a single person (usually themselves lol). Dropouts so far include Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Seth Moulton and Eric Swalwell. In my opinion, those second-tier candidates had a crucial role because they used their platforms to draw attention to some of the most important issues of our time, like Inslee did with the environment or Gillibrand did with gender equality, and ultimately forced the rest of the field to address these topics head-on in order to stay in the news. These campaigns, while lacking in viral moments or big-money donors, were meaningful and important.
This third debate, and the fact that its criteria led to five candidates dropping out, also speaks to another difference between 2020 and previous elections: Historically, the field wouldn’t start shrinking until it reached “early voting states” like Iowa and New Hampshire. These caucuses, on February 3rd and February 11th respectively, are the first opportunities for voters to actually weigh-in, and that’s why you’ve probably read about candidates spending a lot of time campaigning in these two states (door knocking, hosting town halls, attending parades etc). But with such a large field, the weeding out has happened a lot sooner and now there are only ten candidates taking the debate stage.
As much as we don’t always want to admit it; creating a viral moment within a campaign is crucial for someone running for president. Mayor Pete (bae) is incredibly effective at doing this: it happened once back in March during a CNN town hall in which Pete, a man of Christian faith, challenged Vice President Pence’s version of Christianity saying “How could he be a cheerleader for the Porn Star Presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in Scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”. And more recently he went viral on social media when he eloquently discussed climate change as a “faith issue”. The pay-off from creating these moments within a campaign is that not only does the candidate usually receive a boost in fundraising but they also draw bigger crowds in the events they hold in the days that follow. As a side note, I can’t help but notice that the most enduring, appealing and intoxicating quality of Pete’s is that he never raises his voice, he always remains calm, and he shows more maturity on a debate stage than the candidates twenty-years his senior.
Kamala Harris is another candidate who created a viral moment when she confronted former Vice President (and current front-runner) Joe Biden on his past opposition to busing as a means to integrate public schools. Harris received a bump in the polls and fundraising immediately afterwards, but has had a hard time sustaining that momentum in the months since and therefore will be wanting to have a big night on Friday. Despite consistently polling behind the likes of Biden, Bernie and Warren, I still believe Kamala Harris may be one of the best candidates Americans have in terms of going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. It’s also worth noting that it doesn’t mean much to be polling behind the front-runners this early in the game: at almost this exact moment in 2007, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both running for the Democratic nomination, Obama was trailing more than 20 percentage points behind Clinton. His chances at the nomination were considered “a long shot” at best, and “impossible” at worst. This is to say: anything can happen.
I’ve now mentioned two of the top five candidates, the other three (Biden, Bernie and Warren) have effectively been in a three-way tie up until now and will each be looking to “break away” from the pack on Friday. Biden and Warren will be on the same stage for the first time, and Warren and Harris, the two top polling women, will also appear on the same stage for the first time. In terms of messaging, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are often treated as equals and occupy a similar left-wing of the party, so they may take the debate as an opportunity to challenge each other directly. Warren has a few things going for her that Sanders doesn’t: voters are less concerned about her age, she’s allowed herself more room to “make peace” with the establishment and she’s had slightly better polling. Warren’s growing popularity also means she will likely use the debate to challenge front-runner Joe Biden – especially since they represent completely different ends of the Democratic spectrum (Biden the more moderate and Warren the more progressive).
But all of this is merely speculation. If there’s one thing the last three years of American politics have taught us it’s that anything could happen. Personally, I still believe that the chances of President Trump winning re-election are extremely high. I won’t even be mildly surprised if he secures a second term, and Americans would be remiss to think that a Democratic President is a given.
The only thing we know to be true is that this is a moment which demands urgency and courage. As for who will rise to that occasion? We’ll soon find out.