By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Veteran newsmen Steve Barnes and Ernie Dumas have forgotten more about politics than I know. Sitting across the table from them after taping the AETN public affairs show “Arkansas Week” last Friday, I asked them this question, or a variation of it: Who are the young Democrats moving into national leadership who soon could run for president?
What followed was several seconds of silence, and then none of us could produce any names.
The topic came up because of the problems facing Hillary Clinton, who I argued recently in this space would probably be the next president of the United States. With her email problems not going away, that’s looking less certain.
The problem for Democrats is, who would be the alternative – not just among younger Democrats, but even young-ish ones? The closest current rival for Clinton, 67, is Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old Vermont socialist. Even though it’s very late in the process, some Democrats have been flirting with Vice President Joe Biden, who is 72. There’s even talk of former Vice President Al Gore, 67, entering the race.
So far, the Democrats have four announced candidates, but three of them have no shot at the presidency. Meanwhile, the Republicans have a wide open race with 17 candidates – governors and ex-governors, senators, business leaders, a neurosurgeon – most of whom are plausibly presidential.
It’s not that the president should be a young person. It’s that political parties should develop their talent. Democrats don’t necessarily need a candidate like the Republicans’ Sen. Marco Rubio, who’s 44, or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s 47. They need viable candidates in their 50s and early 60s who could have run this year. And they don’t have them.
Why not? The most important reason probably is the hold the Clintons have had on the party since 1992. She has been the heir apparent since Gore lost in 2000, with her seemingly inevitable nomination in 2008 derailed only by then-Sen. Barack Obama’s emergence. The party hasn’t merely been ready for Hillary. It’s been holding the door open for her – and slamming it shut on others.
Other factors? in Congress the party has been led by Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both 75, neither of whom ever seemed interested in running for president. Their iron rule has kept other Democrats in Congress from making names for themselves. Also, Democrats don’t have as strong a media apparatus keeping the party’s talent in front of their own voters. MSNBC is no Fox News, and Democrats don’t have a Rush Limbaugh at all.
Democrats also have fewer officeholders in the places where many presidential candidates are produced: governor’s mansions. There are only 18 Democratic governors, compared to 31 Republican ones.
There are many reasons for this disadvantage, including President Obama’s unpopularity. But another reason may be simple population distribution. Remember those electoral maps that show the country painted county by county with a wide swath of Republican red bordered by Democratic blue on the coasts? Democrats are concentrated in urban areas, while Republicans are spread through the middle of the country. If a Democratic governor is going to run for president, he or she probably will come from a blue state like California, which is currently led by Gov. Jerry Brown, 77.
This also gives the Republicans an advantage in controlling the U.S. Senate, by the way.
Americans tend to hand the White House keys from one party to the other every eight years or so, which favors Republicans in 2016. But otherwise, Democrats enter this cycle with many advantages. They have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and the election itself four of those times. Most of the country’s demographic trends favor them. They lead among women, who vote more frequently than men; among minorities, who become a greater percentage of the population every day; and among young people moving into the voting population.
But to take advantage of this situation, Democrats need young and young-ish candidates who can run for president. In fact, both parties should have numerous candidates ready to run in every election cycle, despite whose “turn” it is. Sure, there are advantages to anointing a candidate two years before the election. But what if that candidate runs into big problems?
So quick – name a young Democrat with a name, money, connections, and national stature.