The first polls (in Iowa, anyway) for 2020 dropped last weekend like an unwelcome dog turd onto your carpeted bedroom floor. It's that time again. The 2016 election seems like it was just yesterday and yet here we are, getting the circus prepped and ready to go yet again. There were no real surprises on the Democratic side of the polls: Biden, Bernie and potential flavor of the month/possible real deal Beto O'Rourke were all at the top of the heap followed by a veritable smorgasbord of candidates behind them. The Republican side was a little more interesting: two thirds of Republicans are still #TeamTrump, but about an equal amount would welcome challengers as well- so it seems like they're at least willing to listen to alternative pitches.
At this point, these polls are more of an announcement- a civil defense siren that the circus is coming, so buckle up and get ready.
Here's the thing that I'm wrestling with a little bit: what does conventional political wisdom even mean in a world where President Trump became, well, President Trump. Everything that I knew (or thought I knew) about how politics works indicated to me that there was no way (no freakin' way) that he would have one- I believed that on Election night of 2016 and yet here we are. The real question hovering over this election is a simple one: is the conventional wisdom reverting to the Pre-Trump mean or are we in completely uncharted territory here?
If you were hoping that the Midterms would provide some sort of an answer well, think again. Iowa's results were sort of a microcosm of the weirdness: the Democrats flipped two Congressional seats and made a serious run at flipping a third, lost the Governor's race by a hair and didn't really make much of a dent in the State Legislature. Maybe all politics is local. Maybe the national results were more about the President. Maybe it all means everything. Maybe it means nothing at all. Who the hell knows?
Nate Silver broke down a pretty exhaustive list of potential candidates and looked at their favorable vs unfavorable- I'm going to use his list for my own breakdown:
Returning Contenders: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders... fairly or unfairly, I think age is going to be a factor here for both candidates- not that President Trump is a young man, by any stretch of the imagination, but I think (think) voters want some younger energy this time around. That impression might be pure ephemeral bullshit on my part, but it's going to be a factor. Biden's also run for President before, unsuccessfully and has a record a mile and a half long that could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Bernie's biggest problem, I think is going to be that his run in 2016 moved the Democrats left into his 'lane' on a lot of issues. Whether he can get the band back together for another go round is an open question.
The Senators and The New Guy: Beto, Klobuchar, Harris, Warren, Booker, Gillibrand and Brown. I'll be honest: I'm not sold on Beto. I'm open to persuasion at this point (not just for the Democrats, but for all parties and candidates at this point in the cycle) but I think the fact that he's telegenic, Irish-Catholic and young get a lot of Democrats all verklempt for a new Kennedy to rally around and it might well work for him. I'm just not sold on it is all. I don't want to be seduced this time around. I don't need young hotness and youthful energy. There needs to be substance to get me off the bench to vote for a person and with Beto, I'm seeing tons of sizzle but don't yet have the substance.
The rest of the Senators are an interesting bunch. Booker I think could be a formidable candidate. People seem to like Sherrod Brown because he's from Ohio, which is smack dab in the Rust Belt that caused the Democrats so many problems in 2016. I think Kamala Harris is going to run, regardless. The interesting wrinkle here is what Warren, Klobuchar and Gillibrand end up doing. I don't know enough about Gillibrand yet to have a sense of how she'll do, but I think Amy Klobuchar is on a lot of people's radar as a dark horse-potentially serious contender- if she runs, she could emerge from the pack pretty quickly I think.
The Governors: Hickenlooper, Bullock, Inslee. Hickenlooper and Bullock are the interesting ones in this category- probably Bullock more so than Hickenlooper. Inslee... sigh. I think he would do well, but I also think he'd get tagged with the 'Crazy Left Coast' thing that might hamper him somewhat. Colorado (Hickenlooper) and Montana (Bullock) however are more interesting example to look at- especially the latter. If a Democrat can win in Montana, one can argue they can probably win a lot of other places too. Name recognition, however, is going to be a factor because I don't think a lot of people know who Governor Bullock is yet.
Meh: Castro, Garcetti, Delaney. Castro is too prominent of a Latino politician to ignore. I'm not crazy about Mayors running for President, but Garcetti seems like a more credible choice than say, Rahm Emmanuel and Delaney has practically lived in Iowa since 2016- and I'm pretty sure he was the first candidate to officially declare. His hard work might yet pay off. But until these three show me something they're kind of [insert shrug emoji.]
No Thanks and 'Who?': Holder, Swalwell, Bloomberg, Steyer, Yang I have no idea who Swalwell is and I'm going to say 'No thanks' to Steyer and Bloomberg. Yang is the Universal Basic Income guy and I think that issue should be out there in the primary, but I don't know if he's going to go anywhere with it. (I'm guessing not.)
Just Hear Me Out: Clinton I know, I know- I can hear your screams of 'Please, God Nooooooo!' But just hear me out on this one. If Clinton runs again and right now, that's a really big 'if', but who knows then she's going to be entering the race with precisely zero momentum, probably not a lot of money and precisely zero expectations. Could be another run is dismissed by voters as nothing more than an exercise in ego and vanity and she flames out quickly. But on the other hand, a third Clinton run with her back against the wall, in the trenches with the rest of them for a bare and bloody knuckled political free for all? A Clinton run where she has shake the hand of every eligible voter in Iowa and New Hampshire? There's just something about a run where she's the scrappy insurgent that makes you wonder...
Don't Forget: Tulsi Gabbard, Richard Ojeda. There's some buzz around Gabbard floating around out there and she's never been afraid to buck the Establishment and Richard Ojeda immediately got my attention when he jumped into the race. Whether or not they go anywhere remains to be seen.
Like it or not, the circus is back in town.