• Harriet Ireland

Are We Looking at the Next US President?

As we enter 2020, the American presidential election is finally within sight. Although there has already been months of campaigning and seven Democratic Party presidential debates, February 3rd will mark the first election of 2020. Democrats across Iowa will cast their vote for presidential candidate, starting off the presidential primary season with what is always a hotly contested race. Iowa and New Hampshire (February 11th) are the first two states to choose their nominee for presidential candidate, despite being small states with few delegates, candidates spend months campaigning across the two to be able to claim the first victories of the election year.

At its peak the democratic field stood at 26 candidates but going into next month’s primary elections only twelve remain, having lost a few very notable names. The first surprising exit came in November with Beto O’Rourke, the poster boy of the 2018 midterms, whose spirited campaign almost won him the senate seat in Texas, but localised enthusiasm did not seem to spread nationwide. Perhaps the biggest shock to the race was the ending of Senator Kamala Harris’ campaign in December. A seasoned senator, Indian American women, with a history in prosecution, Ms Harris came into the race in 2019 as a firm favourite, polling well in the first half of the year, and showing strong performances on the debate stage. However, issues over her prosecutorial past and a lack of financial contributions meant her campaign ended, and one of the strongest female candidates dropped out of the race. In the same vein, the recent suspension of both Julian Castro’s campaign and Cory Booker’s in early 2020 means democrats are faced with an all-white, predominantly male choice for president.

What does this say about the Democratic Party or even the America of today? Questions have arisen over whether these remaining candidates demonstrate a regression for the party that nominated America’s first African American and first female presidential candidates ever. Or whether in the current political climate created by Donald Trump, candidate electability has become the deciding factor and voters are considering who would be best suited to fight against President Trump. Sadly, after the 2016 election it has to be asked if an elderly white man is the only viable opposition to Trump.

However, there is no obvious choice going into the Iowa caucus with the four front runners all polling within five percent of one another. [1] Former vice-president Joe Biden and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg represent the more moderate wing of the party. Running on a less extreme platforms, that aims to appeal to a larger tent and could be restrained enough to get swing voters to vote Democrat especially in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan that Trump only won by tiny margins; voters key to the Democrats reclaiming the White House. The former vice President, is currently popular with African-Americans largely due to his work under President Obama. With no non-white candidates left in the race, the African American and Latino constituencies are the most coveted voting blocks for candidates this election. However, Biden is still caught up both in the controversy surrounding his son Hunter and Ukraine and attacks by women suggesting inappropriate behaviour on Biden’s part. Contrastingly, underdog Buttigieg has become somewhat of a phenomenon in recent months, even polling in the lead in Iowa in some state polls. Young, gay and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Buttigieg is seen by many as the breath of fresh air needed in Washington, a notion that is reflected in his growing donor support, but his lack of political experience could be the shortcoming that stops him getting to the top.

On the other side of the party Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders stand on a more progressive platform. Both candidates are only fundraising from small donors, in a bid to end money controlling American politics, and so far, both candidates have raised the most money out of all the candidates with $60 million and $70 million respectively. Similarly, both candidates support very liberal platforms, calling for free college education, Medicare for all and a Green New Deal. Whilst these positions appeal to a growing democratic demographic who support a more progressive position, the government expenses that come with state-funded programmes will not appeal to Republicans or swing voters and will require the candidates to find new democratic voters instead of flipping disgruntled republican ones. Despite leading in the polls and in the fundraising race, Sanders’ age and health is seen to be an issue, after the Senator suffered a heart attack in October. However, in the last week a scandal has hit these two seemingly united campaigns when Warren claimed that Sanders had told her in private in 2018 that he didn’t think a woman could be elected president. This comment and the bitterness that emerged online between both candidates’ supporters has caused a rift in the far-left of the party, that could damage Warren and Sanders and has opened them to attacks of petty infighting that isn’t helpful for a party that is already so disunited.

The early few primary races will be crucial in determining who will become the Democrats’ next presidential candidate. The key date for the calendar is March 3rd, known as Super Tuesday, which sees thirteen states going to the polls and will be a make or break for many candidates, and will likely set a couple of candidates apart from the current top group and give the democrats and voters across American a better idea as to where the party and country is heading going into the general election in August.

[1] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-iowa-caucuses-are-in-17-days-whats-going-on-in-the-early-states/

At the time of writing, Harriet Ireland is a fourth year student at the University of Edinburgh. She is studying History and Politics. Areas that interest her the most are US politics and UK foreign relations.