No, not that kind of IQ.
A different one. Call it the “interesting quotient.” If we learned one thing from the monster GOP Presidential field of 2016 it’s the ability to be interesting and draw attention – on TV, social media, and otherwise – is essential for candidates to rise out of the multi-candidate crab bucket.
Interesting or newsworthy doesn’t mean we agree with them (see Trump, Donald). But it is an important metric for the 2020 Democratic field. They have many candidates, with multiple candidates vying for each constituency of Democratic primary voters. All to run against Donald Trump in a consequential election.
Here’s a look at the field at today’s early stage, with only some traditional power ranking punditry, assessing who might best elevate themselves to get attention:
1. Cory Booker: What Cory Booker at #1? Yes, Cory Booker. He’s interesting. Our most recent collective memory of him is “Spartacus!” and similar such Judiciary Committee preening. That’s not good. It’s easy to forget Booker made a name for himself as a reformist Mayor in Newark who championed school choice and close ties with corporate America while winning with grassroots campaigns against an established political machine. He was the AOC of his time on social media, back when Twitter was just getting traction. He’s an urban minority, running in a party increasingly dominated by voters in urban centers. Some people find his earnest enthusiasm exasperating, but such people may find him authentic in the end. He’s also single and vegan (the latter of which Erick has noted), both of which make for unique story lines. He’s also a proven high-energy, retail campaigner, which can be exceptionally beneficial in Iowa and other early states.
2. Kamala Harris: She’s the front-runner, mostly because she seems to find herself at the median of the Democratic primary field (the general electorate is another matter), had a strong roll-out, and checks a lot of boxes for a Democratic nominee in this era: female, minority, and successful in a huge, Democratic state. She also has a Tracy Flick vibe, implying a level of ruthless ambition that both shouldn’t be doubted and could be attention-grabbing in public view. Front-runner + sharp elbows (with a smile) in a crowded field = interesting. I’m waiting for someone to light her up for her record as a prosecutor and AG as attention turns beyond Iowa and New Hampshire to states where the non-white vote is often decisive. How she defends herself then will be telling.
3. Sherrod Brown: An older, white, male, career politician is the third most interesting person in the 2020 Democratic field? Yes. He’s liberal like Bernie Sanders, but he’s not angry about …and not a full-on socialist. His ruffled, labor-friendly, advocate for the working guy vibe is 100% more compelling than John Kasich’s “aw shucks, my dad was a mailman” (and everyone in DC knows I’m an asshole) shtick. He has a record of winning the kind of votes in Ohio that could make him a force in the Iowa Caucuses and make media hearts flutter with interest as Democrats hope to re-create the Midwestern Blue Wall that fell in 2016. California, the biggest prize of the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, may start absentee voting the same day as the Iowa Caucuses take place next year but, a win in Iowa would still be a huge boost for anyone trying to win the “beer track” of a crowded field.
4. Julian Castro: A Latino candidate from Texas with a record as Mayor of a big city (San Antonio) and in Obama’s Cabinet (HUD), and whose twin brother is a Congressman in Texas too, is automatically interesting. He was once called the “Latino Barack Obama” and considered for Hilary Clinton’s VP nominee. In a field that has to weigh whether Democrats want to try to win by running at the Sunbelt (Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina) or the Midwest, Castro’s benefit to the former approach is formidable. He’s worth watching, especially if Beto doesn’t run.
5. Terry McAuliffe: What? The Macker? Yes, speculative since it’s not clear he’d run. Yet, he won the governorship in Virginia back when it was still a swing state (and also not a made-for-TV drama). He has a national network from his days as a Bill Clinton confidant and then Chair of the DNC. He’s smooth. He knows how to engage in hand-to-hand, partisan combat without soiling himself in the process. And he has skills working the press. His return would be a relatively new face back on the scene. Oh, and Virginia is part of that March 3rd Super Tuesday.
6. Beto O’Rourke: Put aside the fact Beto’s last couple months have been rather weird…because he’s authentic, and weird sometimes is part of that. Beto’s staggering fundraising list is significant and on the stump he sometimes says viral things that make Democrats swoon and some moderates nod their heads. A good debate, strong fundraising, and return to live-stream magic from 2018 could vault him back into getting serious attention, though a failed Senate campaign is a tough platform for the Oval Office.
7. Amy Klobuchar: Many a pundit thinks Klobuchar could be the best general election candidate for Democrats, especially to reclaim the Midwest. But, tell that to Democratic primary voters. Her Minnesota electoral experience could serve her very well in Iowa but it feels like she needs a breakout moment in early debates to elevate her to true first tier status. Her time as a prosecutor is probably even more problematic than Harris’ and likely limits her already challenged ability to win minority voters that matter a great deal in Democratic primaries. The recent tales of her being a hellcat of a boss probably matter little to voters but could mean a lot if she struggles to field a quality campaign team.
8. Joe Biden: The only really interesting thing about Biden is his willingness to be pugnacious. He would spar with Trump, perhaps literally, without landing in the mud pit in which Cheetoh Jesus loves to wallow. But Biden’s record in his own Presidential runs is horrible, his extended footsie with this race implies a lack of seriousness to do the hard work necessary (see Thompson, Fred), and his long record in office, including on crime and representing Delaware, with its subtly troubled history on race issues, would be great fodder for interested opponents. I have a lingering feeling he won’t run.
9. Tulsi Gabbard: Yes, her campaign is already in disarray and she’s an Assad apologist. But she’s young, a veteran, an quasi-isolationist, a Hindu, has roots in American Samoa, is a bit of a hippie surfer, and charismatic. That’s different. Very. If she can correct her awkward start she’s likely to capture attention, including potentially on the debate stage. Maybe in ways that may would mock, but attention nonetheless. More likely though, she’ll serve as a foil in debates and on the trail for leading Democrats to appear less crazy than her foreign policy positions.
10. Elizabeth Warren: I can’t escape the feeling Warren is the uptight scold down the block who gives you a lecture about this, that, or the other thing while you’re out walking your dog. Maybe that’s not fair, but it’s true. And nobody likes that person. Let us pick up our dog shit in peace, lady. Warren’s liberal populism also has ample competition from more interesting candidates. She should have run in 2016.
11. Bernie Sanders: Really? Do we have to do the Bernie thing again? I guess. If he gets in he’s going to learn rather quickly outside of real socialists there are rather few people who want the crazy uncle to be the Democratic nominee when he’s not running against just Hillary Clinton.
12. Jay Inslee : he’s likely running for VP. And while conservatives from the Evergreen State (including me) will be quick to poke holes in Inslee’s policy smarts, his political instincts can at times be very good. And he’s a partisan bomb thrower. He could easily capture some attention, including at debates, drawing support from liberals focused on his cause célèbre, climate change, especially in Iowa, and maybe New Hampshire if Warren and Sanders both struggle.
That it’s for now. Call it a dirty dozen, which is already bigger than a full debate stage. Of note, Kirsten Gillibrand doesn’t even make the list. In a less crowded field she’d be a more compelling choice. She might even make the best President in terms of temperament and fitness for office of the Democratic field. But there is nothing otherwise interesting about her candidacy other than a base of support in New York that serves as a strong foundation for a national run…and how she eats fried chicken.
Meanwhile, there are the potential candidates like Michael Bloomberg (gross) and long shots like Pete Buttigieg who could become interesting but need to prove it. Likewise, there are some names out there like the Rocky Mountain West dudes (Bennet, Bullock, and Hickenlooper) and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who regardless of if they run could make interesting VP choices.
What do you think?