Charles Laffiteau’s Bigger Picture (May 2019)
2019-05-01 15:45:42 -
World News

BEFORE I get into the significance of Beto O’Rourke’s recent big campaign hire, I want to discuss the so-called ‘Gang of Six’ front-runners, and specifically the two most recent Democratic candidates to enter the presidential race, former vice president Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg. These last two are notable because both immediately became members of the Gang of Six. But which of this number is most likely to win the Democratic nomination to take on President Trump in 2020?


After serving as America’s VP for eight of the past 10 years, it’s no surprise that Joe Biden is also currently leading the Democratic campaign polls. Nor should anyone be shocked that Bernie Sanders is running second in most polls, given that he finished a strong second to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic race.


It should also come as no surprise, given her strong national profile that, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is in the Gang of Six. But while Biden and Sanders are polling in the range of 15 to 35 per cent both nationally and in the early voting Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the other four are only polling in the five-to-15 per cent range. However, what some observers find surprising is the fact that South Bend, Indiana’s Buttigieg is the candidate now running third in both Iowa and New Hampshire.


During the past month, the candidate I support, Beto O’Rourke, has also dropped from third into a fourth-place tie with Elizabeth Warren and California Senator Kamala Harris. Beto can find some consolation, however, in the Texas primary polls because he is the only Democratic candidate tied for the lead with Biden in his home state, also a major early voting state. By contrast, Harris is only running third with 17 per cent in her home state of California while Warren is also running third at 14 per cent in Massachusetts. Given their better name recognition and stronger political ties at home, it’s not a good sign if any presidential candidate isn’t leading or close to the lead in their own state’s presidential polls. Furthermore, it is not exactly good news if a presidential candidate has not been able to win or come close to winning a statewide race against a political opponent from the other political party. Whereas neither Buttigieg nor O’Rourke have ever won a run for statewide office, O’Rourke came within three points of winning while Buttigieg lost his race by over 27 points.


Another strike against Buttigieg comes from a more historical perspective, given that no sitting mayor has ever been elected as US President. Hubert Humphrey is the only ex-mayor to win a presidential nomination, but he had already been elected as a senator and as VP before he became the Democratic nominee in 1968. On the other hand, as I have previously noted, Abraham Lincoln was still elected president in 1860 even though he, like O’Rourke, had narrowly lost his Illinois Senate race to Senator Stephen Douglas two years earlier.


While the other four members of the Gang of Six have all won statewide races for political office, there are a variety of factors which I believe will combine to derail their chances of winning the Democratic nomination. For Biden and Sanders, one of those factors is their age. At 72, Trump is already the oldest person to be elected president. But while I think both men are far better than Trump, Biden is already 76 and Sanders is 77, and history tells us the odds are against either man winning the nomination.


Age will also be a factor with Buttigieg, but in a different way since he is just 37, which is roughly half the age of both Biden and Sanders. However, if Buttigieg were elected president, he would also be going against historical precedent, and setting a record for being the youngest person ever to hold the office since John F Kennedy was elected in 1960 at the age of 43. While I don’t believe a person’s age matters, it’s still an important factor to many other voters.


Senators Harris and Warren, meanwhile, are bucking another historical precedent of no woman ever winning a national race for US president or vice president. So, the only member of the Gang of Six who is both leading the polls in his home state and not bucking trends is Beto O’Rourke. Yet, Beto’s Senate campaign failed in part because he would not employ the political campaign professionals he needed to respond quickly to Ted Cruz’s political attacks. Now he has addressed this deficiency by hiring Jen O’Malley Dillon, who also has national field organising experience and is an expert at using data to target voters. Her hiring is also significant because she is the first woman ever hired to run an American presidential campaign.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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