Sunday, March 3, 2019

Democrat Voters Conflicted on Who Can Beat President Trump

The California primary is one year from today, and the L.A. Times kicked off a year of campaign coverage with a special section today.

And from Janet Hook's piece, "Democrats, facing a big candidate field, ask: Who can beat Trump?":

Marcus Scott is looking for a Democratic presidential candidate who will be rude to Donald Trump. Kara LaMarche wants an upbeat, positive approach. Ben Dion wants a nominee with experience and gravitas. Linds Jakows has had it with older white men in power.

Those voters, like fellow Democrats across the country, seek very different things in the big and growing presidential candidate field. But they share one top priority: Picking a nominee who will beat President Trump in 2020.

A year from now, on March 3, 2020, candidates will be competing for primary votes in California and eight other states in the first day of multistate voting. By then, the candidates will have been tested in the four early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, where Democrats already have a curbside seat for the parade of candidates campaigning there.

Between now and then, much of the debate seems certain to focus on the elusive quality labeled “electability.”

Parties always want to win, of course, but Democratic loathing of Trump has pushed finding a winner way up the priority scale this year, recent polls show. Democratic voters say they’d prefer a candidate who can beat Trump to one who agrees with their position on any particular issue.

Voters, however, have widely varying views about what electable means in 2020. To some, it is code for a safe, cautious choice — a centrist white male who presumably can speak to swing voters. To other Democrats, that’s a recipe for killing off excitement within the party’s young, diverse, progressive base, which needs to be mobilized to win in 2020.

The contrasting ideas about electability will come sharply into focus in the coming weeks if two late entrants to the 2020 race come off the sidelines. If former Rep. Beto O’Rourke jumps in, the 46-year-old Texan will represent a bid for generational change that could mobilize new voters in a way supporters compare to Barack Obama.

If Vice President Joe Biden runs, he will likely lean heavily on the case that his long experience makes the 76-year-old the party’s safest bet to win the White House.

“I believe he is the only person who could take on Trump and beat him,” said Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and longtime Biden backer. “We’re going to need someone who can motivate the middle-of-the-road voter.”

Other Democrats believe the party must put up a candidate better equipped than the former vice president to speak to and harness the energy of the younger generation of voters that helped deliver victory to the party in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I truly believe this great nation is ready for change,” said Robyn Joppy, a business consultant who heard Biden speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Washington, D.C. “I love him. But I think his time has come and gone.”

How many candidates will be in the field by the time actual voting starts is anybody’s guess. For now, 13 have joined the field or formed an exploratory committee. Half are senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

More candidates may soon get in the race, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, as well as Biden and O’Rourke.

The candidates are now pouring most of their effort into the four earliest-voting states. They face a daunting challenge when attention turns to California, because its large size gives a leg up to candidates who can afford television advertising.

Harris, Sanders and Biden, if he runs, could have an edge because they are already well known in the state. But because Democratic Party rules require all states to distribute their delegates proportionately, no candidate is likely to walk away with a lion’s share of California’s more than 400 convention delegates, the largest group from any state.

Most Democrats are highly confident of their ability to beat Trump in 2020, because of his low approval ratings and the high level of energy in their own ranks.

But a recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm, provides a warning against overconfidence on the part of Democrats. Nationally the poll found just 45% of respondents approved of the job Trump was doing. But he fared better — 50% approved of him — in 12 swing states important to his reelection (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin).

Some Democrats are skeptical about assessing candidates’ electability.