Pragmatic Democrats are grinding their teeth over the direction the presidential primary election is going.
Among the leading candidates are the geriatric bumbler Joe Biden, the radical scold Elizabeth Warren, and the cranky socialist Bernie Sanders. Biden, 76, excites nobody and is short on funding. Warren, 70, and Sanders, 78, are so off-putting to moderates they make Donald Trump look good. And all three are past the retirement age. “Democrats have [a] huge problem,” strategist Greg Valliere of AGF Investments wrote recently to clients. “Isn’t there anyone more electable than Biden or Elizabeth Warren?”
Party leaders fantasize about Michelle Obama running, or Michael Bloomberg, or even Hillary Clinton, again. But the Democratic field already includes several candidates for president who are sensible, likeable, qualified, and electable. They just aren’t winning.
Yahoo Finance recently interviewed Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, for instance — perhaps the only person running who has actually won support from Trump voters, a trick Democrats need to execute nationally to win in 2020. In 2016, when Trump carried Montana with 56% of the vote, Bullock won a second term as governor with 50%, which means some voters picked both Trump and Bullock.
Bullock favors practical solutions over expensive new government programs like Medicare for All, which Sanders and Warren favor. His health care plan, for example, would offer a new government option to people who need it, while leaving private insurance in place. “We need to make sure that health care is affordable and accessible for everyone,” he told Yahoo Finance. “But there are times where some Democrats say, we're going to have this huge plan that means increased costs, completely disrupts your lives. And folks are just saying, it's disconnected from my everyday life.”
Three pragmatic Democrats have already dropped out: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Seth Moulton. Several others, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney are in the back of the pack and largely unknown to voters.
The moderates who have qualified for debates
Of the prominent Dems able to qualify for televised debates, there’s only one moderate younger than 70 who’s polling at 5% or more: Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg, like Bullock, favors a limited new government health care option over Medicare for All. He’d pay for it by raising the corporate income tax instead of hitting most households with new taxes, like some of his Democratic opponents would. Unlike Warren and Sanders, Buttigieg, 37, has no plan to forgive trillions in student debt (which would require even more tax revenue), or punish millionaires with a new wealth tax.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is similar to Buttigieg, and she positions herself as a folksier, more down-to-earth version of Elizabeth Warren. But Klobuchar is polling at just 2% in national averages. Some analysts think Buttigieg and Klobuchar may stand out more as the still-unwieldy field of 19 candidates narrows, and they get more of a spotlight. And since they’re both Midwesterners, they could outperform in the crucial Iowa caucus next February, and pick up momentum then.
Biden himself is a centrist who likes to say, “nobody has to be punished.” By that, he means he doesn’t plan to hit the wealthy with sharp tax hikes, regulate energy firms out of business, or put everybody working for a health insurer out of a job. The obvious worry with Biden, 76, is he’d be 82 when he finishes his first term. And he already stumbles over words. Still, you can be both old and electable.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.