Surveying the Democratic presidential campaign

March 3, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 3, 2020

As the rain fell this afternoon, I drove to a nearby elementary school and cast a ballot in North Carolina’s primary election.

I am not a Democrat; back in the spring of 2004, shortly after my move to the Old North State, I registered as an unaffiliated voter. But since I’ve resided in two heavily Democratic counties over the past 16 years, I’ve now voted in eight Democratic primaries. In even-numbered years, there typically aren’t enough candidates for local Republican, Libertarian or nonpartisan — meaning county and school board — offices for there to be a contested primary.

I’ve cast zero Republican or Libertarian ballots and five nonpartisan ones in primary elections; those five were all in odd-numbered Durham city races, which formally eschew political parties.

But enough stalling! I know what you’re all here for: To learn my choice in the Democratic primary.

(Well, maybe some more stalling…)

The field sure has thinned out since the period for registering a presidential campaign with the state closed on Dec. 20. There used to be 15 participants, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, whose candidacy I’d completely forgotten about, and John K. Delaney, about whom I know approximately nothing.

As of this morning, there were four remaining contenders whom I consider viable. In alphabetical order:

• Former vice president and U.S. senator from Delaware Joe Biden;

• Former New York Mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg;

• U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and

• U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii still seems to have an active presidential campaign, but she’s generated minimal attention. Based on a quick look at Real Clear Politics’s polling average, she never broke 3 percent in opinion surveys — significantly less than U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who ended their campaigns in the 48 hours prior to today’s Super Tuesday voting.

I’ve never viewed Gabbard as a serious contender. I think she skews too far against foreign interventions, which are sometimes necessary for humanitarian purposes, but that’s a legitimate position to take. However, I’m concerned about her reluctance to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a war criminal, and I’m extremely dismayed by her popularity with white nationalists — which, I should acknowledge, is predicated on her reluctance to send American troops in harm’s way. (Neo-Nazis believe that American military might has been coopted to fight wars on behalf of wealthy Jews.)

I have reservations about each of the remaining contenders. I’m not entirely convinced that Warren has the charisma or enthusiasm needed to run a successful modern presidential campaign. I also think that her handling of her Native American ancestry, which led President Donald Trump to give her the obnoxious moniker Pocahontas, was questionable at best.

Bloomberg’s ownership of a major media corporation not only poses an incredible conflict of interest but calls to mind Silvio Berlusconi, the former right-wing Italian prime minister who was also a media tycoon before taking his nation’s highest post. Bloomberg is further to the left than Berlusconi, but he’s burdened by having spent years defending New York City’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy.

Biden can seem out of step with the realities of 2020, notably due to his belief that ousting Trump from office will magically conjure a set of Republican politicians who will act reasonably. He also seems to have issues respecting personal boundaries, and I think his centrism is a major turnoff for liberal voters.

Sanders has long been a reliable left-wing voice, but I’m unable to name a single major legislative initiative that he’s helped push through in the nearly 30 years that he’s served in Congress. This, I fear, is a sign that he’ll have trouble implementing the sweeping reforms — Medicare for all, free public college, major reductions in carbon emissions — that are major parts of his appeal. I’m also concerned by the toxicity of his online supporters. My biggest fear, however, is that he’s vulnerable to being attacked as a socialist, meaning that he would have a relatively low ceiling as a general-election candidate.

My pick for president is Sen. Warren. She’s smart and accomplished, she’s demonstrated her commitment to protecting regular people from corporate greed, and I think she has the least downside of the remaining four major contenders.

We’ll know in a few hours whether Warren has won enough support to continue her campaign. I certainly hope she does.

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