JP Observer Choosing Several Great Democrats from a Crowded Field for President

By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette

We are at the start of an exciting, very long election season leading up to the final vote for president on Nov. 3, 2020. As of now, at least 24 Democrats are running. Our first official choice will be in the primary on Tuesday March 3, 2020 here in Massachusetts.

Many people want to see Republican President Donald Trump—who is trying to dismantle government, ignore climate change, throw out affordable health care, marginalize people of color and expand his powers of the president—defeated. In a recent survey, Massachusetts residents had the lowest opinion of Trump of any state in the country.

Jamaica Plain is probably the same, given that a relatively small number of people here are registered Republicans, and Hillary Clinton won the neighborhood handily in 2016.

As of mid-May, it looks like Democrats and unenrolled (in a party) residents who vote in the Democratic primary will have 24 candidates to choose from, though some are likely to join or drop out before March 3.

The crowd can be daunting to voters, but the good news is that it appears any of the candidates would be a better president than the incumbent. And those with name recognition, various polls have shown, would each beat Trump if the election were now.

Trump will have an opponent in the Republican primary—former Massachusetts governor William Weld. Choosing between Trump and Weld, who are quite different from one another, will be fairly easy for Republicans and their allies.

At first glance, it won’t be so easy for Democrats, but looking at the crowded field can be inspiring. One thing for sure is that Democrats want their nominee to beat Trump on Nov. 3, 2020 and be ready to undo the damage he’s done to the country.

It is tempting and traditional for Democrats to think they need to pick a single favorite as soon as possible and start supporting their person with passionate devotion right away.

Being adamantly in favor of one person over all others is not the best route to victory this time. Single-mindedness could serve to fracture voters so badly that many don’t get behind and vote for the Democratic nominee in final election. Hence, four more years of Trump.

Basing one’s support at this stage on who it seems is most likely to beat Trump or even to consider that is absurd. Nobody knows or even knows how to find out, despite the pundits and pollsters who earn their livings pretending they do. And lots will happen during the coming 18 months that will affect the final outcome.

In the next five-plus months, it’s actually a good idea to support more than one Democratic contender. On March 3 Democrats can just pick one to vote for that day, then back up the eventual nominee in fall 2020 even if its someone else. Meanwhile, we can talk up several of our favorite candidates to friends. Donate to them, even. It’s a revolutionary idea to support more than one person, but a rational revolution is necessary today.

         We have lots of time, and a plethora of great candidates, but getting to know them thoroughly and objectively enough to narrow the field to a few will require some effort.

A pair of nationally televised debates among the Democratic contenders is scheduled for this June 26 and 27 in Miami and July 30 and 31 in Detroit. Questions and speaking time for each of the 20 candidates who qualify to be on stage over two nights each month will be severely limited. As set up by the Democratic National Committee, candidates can qualify based on numbers of donors and/or placement in recognized polls as of two weeks beforehand. Ten will appear each evening in each location. They will be interesting, but it’s not a terrific way to select just one person to support.

Because Massachusetts is not a battleground or early primary state, candidates won’t focus much on us, just as they don’t in final elections. Our state isn’t very big, so we don’t send a large number of delegates to party conventions (or electors to the electoral college) compared to some other states. Massachusetts will send 91 delegates to the Democratic Convention—California, 495—for example.

This means we don’t get the same number of commercials or rallies (except ones aimed at voters in New Hampshire, an early primary state) or visits from candidates (except to attend fundraisers) as many other states. Our Super Tuesday primary is the same date as 12 others, also watering down attention from candidates.

Ongoing coverage of the candidates by major media, if it continues the way it did for the 2016 election, will be pretty worthless for people looking to choose favorites. Most coverage treats the election more like a sports tournament or a celebrity reality show, focusing on candidates’ personal stories, quirks, whacky soundbites and isolated incidents.

The only exceptions are some TV channels that are offering town meetings to present candidates one at a time to answer questions about the many critical issues they would have to deal with as president. Unfortunately, watching them all requires major a time commitment.

Boston.com has “Meet the Democratic Candidates Who are Running for President” that contains, so far, at least, just a photo, very basic info about the candidates and the unnamed writers’ opinions in the categories: “Best Known For” “Biggest Strength” and “Biggest Weakness.”

Candidates’ rallies are not so much for the purpose of convincing and educating as they are for putting forth easy to remember slogans and generating passion and heat in the person’s favor—enthusiasm that could lead to donations and volunteers. Any policies laid out in rallies and speeches need to be described in writing for the public to easily see.

Candidates’ websites provide a fabulous way to get to know their stands on issues (or lack thereof), unfiltered by social and traditional media and unrestricted by time. Candidates stating their positions on their websites bravely where everyone can see them is a great modern tradition that has improved our elections.

Looking over so many websites takes some time, so I did a first pass for readers of this column on May 11 using a list of the 22 known contenders, adding and checking two late entries the next week. Voters should visit the websites periodically themselves. They can be changed frequently. Also, because it is early, some candidates might not have had time to put their policy stands there yet.

What I found on the Democratic candidates websites in mid-May was surprising and edifying compared to presidential elections earlier in the internet era. Almost every website prominently features a solicitation of the visitor’s contact information on the home page, often with a “Donate” button. Many of them have a link in the navigation bar called “Store” or “Shop” where the hats with slogans are for sale, no doubt.

On many sites, how a visitor can do anything but sign up or donate or maybe attend an event wasn’t obvious. No “issues” section on many. Clicking on the logo or a link in small type at the bottom of the donate page sometimes leads to more information. Several sites emphasized the candidate’s life story and beliefs.

Any candidate who does not put their positions (and even some proposals) in writing on at least 20 issues on a range of topics easily accessible on their websites by this coming November should not be taken seriously enough to vote for. More than 20 issues will confront them as president in just their first weeks in office, and we need to know what they think about at the issues the candidate thinks are important.

Six candidates, to their credit, already describe a range of more than 20 issues they are concerned about on their websites. They include former Congressperson John Delaney of Maryland, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of upstate New York, former Sen. Mike Gravel, of California, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York City and author Marianne Williamson, also of New York City.

Among those who have fewer stands on their sites as of mid-May is former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware who briefly stated eight general policy goals. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington makes two extensive statements about climate change. Massachusetts Sen. Warren names some general goals, like to “rebuild the middle class,” deal with the opiate epidemic and end college debt, but has nothing extensive or detailed.

Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota both, rather oddly, suggest readers should subscribe to Medium.com, to which they provide a link to a form where the visitor can sign up in order to read more about their positions on issues.

Former Congressperson Beto O’Rourke of Texas stood out by providing a check-list of issues and a comment box for voters to fill out, but he took no stands himself.

Eleven other candidates, including well-known Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro of Texas; Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, Sen. Kamala Harris of California; and Klobuchar had no specific, easily identifiable issues stands on their websites as of mid-May. Some had a few references to previous stands on issues in their biographies or scripts of speeches.

Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida and Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana had no stand-alone presidential campaign websites that I could find in mid-May.

So what about Facebook and other social media? Some candidates have more than one FB page. One of Elizabeth Warren’s pages features her doing short blurbs mostly on issues of the day. Other candidates’ pages have their speeches or events announcements. Of the Facebook pages I looked at, none seem to be a good source of easy to access info about a range of issues.

Voters shouldn’t fear being called a “policy wonk” for wanting to examine what policies and actions candidates support. We’ve had enough of government by celebrity and soundbite. It’s good to examine the characters of candidates, but a candidate being a character, no matter how passionate or outspoken he or she is, is not a reason to support them.

Knowledge and cooperation don’t make good soundbites or slogans to chant at a rally. But when voters and candidates talk and behave as though they value them, results on both election days should be good.

Sandra Storey is a longtime resident of Jamaica Plain and former publisher and founder of the Jamaica Plain Gazette

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