By Liana Imparato
The main goal of Democrat voters in 2020 is simple: nominate someone who can beat Donald Trump. All policy goals and ideas fall second to this, say commentators and strategists on both the right and left. As the Democratic field widens and Republicans balk at the idea of opposing the president in the primaries, the question of which Democrat stands the best chance against President Trump in 2020 remains.
Fourteen candidates have announced their run for Democratic candidacy in the general election. Well-known candidates include Senator Elizabeth Warren of Mass., Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (an Independent running as a Democrat.) Several others, like former Vice President Joe Biden, are expected to announce in the coming weeks and months.
But a majority of the candidates are relatively unknown. Several of them are far younger than their counterparts, with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana at just 37 years old. Other background candidates include former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and author Marianne Williamson.
The field is saturated, and mostly with a host of unknowns. In many ways, it mirrors the Republican field from the 2016 election: a race dominated by lesser-known individuals who stand little chance against political (and, in the GOP’s case, business) giants. To the fear of many on the left, a 2016-Republican outcome could be on the horizon.
A “2016-Republican outcome” would mean that name recognition is a strong determinant of the outcome. To this point, commentators have agreed that current stand-outs in the 2020 Democratic polls are also people with high name recognition.
While some strategists deny the significance of name identification in the long run, conservative columnist Mary Katharine Ham cautions them away from understating its importance to the future of the race.
“I would like 2015 me to say: be careful. Because I will tell you that a 70-plus, fiery populist with high name ID can walk away with the primary in a giant field of enthusiastic, young and promising figure,” said Ham.
It seems that Ham’s words should not be taken lightly. Recent polls still show former Vice President Biden in the lead with Senator Sanders close behind. At 76 and 77 years old, respectively, they are the oldest candidates (or, in Biden’s case, potential candidate) in the race and have some of the highest name recognition in comparison to other candidates.
Just like President Trump in 2016.
However, electability in the general race is still the most important concern, and many question whether the “old, white man” in the mold of Donald Trump have that factor.
In fact, voters speaking to the Los Angeles Times expressed their desire for the party to part ways with these stock candidates.
“I think his [Biden’s] time has come and gone,” one Democrat voter said.
The lesser known candidates certainly have a fighting chance. A recent poll in Iowa found Mayor Buttigieg trailing in third place behind Senator Sanders, and former senate candidate Beto O’Rourke has been gathering support for his Obama-esque appeal.
As the party platform centers on the best way to defeat Trump, it’s hard to tell exactly how to attract the most voters. Right now, this seems to indicate a shift further to the left; for example, candidates like O’Rourke have shied away from decrying far-left policies like late-term abortions.
Does this equate to electability? It is difficult to say. Even more, can it rise above the significance of high name ID? Again, it’s hard to say.
To be fair, the election is over a year away. The polls are bound to change, candidates will enter, and candidates will drop out. But the importance of name recognition may very well prevail, as, in the retrospective words of commentator Ham, “I’ve seen it happen before.”.