Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair, August 1976 – Photo Credit – Des Moines Register
I try not to inflate the importance of Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses. Whatever it was, the caucus process is less personal today than depicted in the media or by campaign consultants. Gone are the days of a Jimmy Carter-style candidate appearing unannounced at the Iowa State Fair to meet and greet people.
I’m okay with that and don’t seek a return to those times. They weren’t that great and for the most part, our politics has become smarter.
If I get a chance to meet the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 that’s good, but not necessary for me to go on living. I feel confident the Democratic nominating process will pick a viable candidate to challenge the incumbent no matter how individual campaigns muck it up. Democrats I know favor support of the eventual nominee over any transitory enthusiasm for another candidate on caucus night.
When Iowa Republicans fielded 18 presidential candidates in 2016, I thought that really worked for them by increasing the number of events where Iowans could talk about politics. It solidified a sense of community among party members and is paying them dividends in state and federal government. Now that Democrats have fielded
22 23 candidates, what Republicans had doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s face it. We are too Democratic to develop that kind of culture.
The Democratic field is dividing into non-hierarchical tiers, like it or not. Here’s my take on for whom I might caucus as of this morning. Implicit is the idea I will finalize a choice and begin to work for a campaign after Labor Day. When I say “work for a campaign,” I mean in my political precinct.
Tier One: Possibilities
Given the long list, there are only three candidates I’d talk to my neighbors about supporting, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.
I’ve heard Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak in person (in the 2016 cycle) and like her a lot. There is also pronounced grassroots interest in her campaign among my fellow Big Grove Democrats. She won her re-election for U.S. Senate in 2018 with more than 60 percent of votes cast. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, it does not seem assured a Democrat would replace her. I’m remembering the Al Franken-Norm Coleman 2008 election which Franken won by about 300 votes.
Kamala Harris hasn’t been to Iowa very often, but my perception is she is running a campaign the way it should be done. She won her election for U.S. Senate in 2016 with more than 62 percent of votes cast. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, the expected outcome of an election to fill her remaining term in California would be a Democratic winner.
Elizabeth Warren is one of only two candidates I’ve heard speak this year. Her policies align closely with mine and her campaign is the only one that’s reached out to me personally about joining. I’ve been contacted multiple times, by multiple organizers. She has a large Iowa staff, which seems needed to win the 2020 Iowa caucus delegate count. She won re-election to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 2018 with more than 60 percent of the vote. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, the expected outcome of an election to fill her remaining term would be a Democratic winner, despite the permanent stain on Massachusetts Democrats for failure to elect a replacement for Senator Ted Kennedy.
Tier Two: Go back to the Senate and build a Democratic Majority
It is not necessary for all Democratic U.S. Senators to run for president. I like each of them for different reasons, however, Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker should join Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley in declining to run for president and work to build a Democratic senate majority.
Tier Three: Like them a lot, just not for president
Pete Buttigieg should run for statewide office in Indiana. He seems to have a bright future ahead of him in Democratic politics but after reading his book and listening to a couple of speeches on the internet, my judgement is he’s not ready to become president. A career model he might follow is that of Evan Bayh who was elected Indiana governor, then U.S. Senator.
Jay Inslee’s all climate policy agenda may be what’s needed, it doesn’t seem viable in the general election.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock should run for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Steve Daines in 2020.
Beto O’Rourke should run for U.S. Senate in Texas again, this time against Republican incumbent John Cornyn in 2020.
Joe Biden could do the most good for Democrats by speaking and raising money for the eventual nominee.
Tier Four: Just give it up
The remaining candidates should just give it up. I met Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney and Julián Castro and have nothing bad to say about them. The others no doubt have many qualifications and credentials, but that alone doesn’t make for a presidential nominee. I’d reconsider someone if they or their staff reached out to me, but none of them seems to have Iowa staff presence at Elizabeth Warren level or even what’s needed. None of them has been otherwise able to gain traction.
Eight months from the Iowa caucus it seems premature to cast any of this in concrete. Picking a Democratic presidential nominee is low priority on my political checklist. More about that later.