Seven key takeaways from the first 2020 Presidential Debate

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With just five weeks to go until the election, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met on stage at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University on Tuesday evening for the first Presidential Debate of the 2020 Election. The first debate comes as Biden is narrowing the gap between himself and the President in key Republican-leaning states such as Iowa, Ohio and Georgia.

What we were delivered was a 90-minute chaotic war of words between the two candidates, and one which moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to keep hold of. It was not particularly easy watching: the fiery debate was rife with interruptions, and Biden’s line of “Will you shut up, man?” said to Trump has already become something of a meme.

There is disagreement as to how much – or indeed whether – a candidate’s debate performance improves or detracts from their electoral chances. However, in the strange days we seem to be living in at the moment, discussion of difficult issues has never been more important. So how did the candidates get through the night? Here are six key takeaways to reflect on.

Trump hasn’t changed since 2016

Not one to observe the niceties of the political establishment, Donald Trump from the beginning steamrollered his way through the debate, interrupting and talking over not only his debate opponent but also the moderator, as well as going after Biden’s family, including his sons. He even managed to bust out the “Crooked Hillary” line. His supporters may have been amused by his constant takedowns of and stampeding Joe Biden, but his performance on the debate stage will remind his opponents of the arguably even more chaotic 2016 campaign, and it is much more unlikely to help give him the edge this time around.

…and this has put him on the back foot

In 2016, Donald Trump’s advantage was that he was a political outsider and fighter for the average voter, running against a candidate who embodied the political establishment, and an East Coast liberal to boot. However, Trump has been President for coming up to four years now; he is no longer an outsider, and must defend his record as the incumbent President now. This of course makes him more vulnerable to attack, and the cheap shots may not be as effective when in a defensive position.

Biden had a lot of ammunition on Trump

The last seven months or so have brought up a huge number of electoral disasters for the President: the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown, the economic crisis and ensuing job losses, and race issues across the US all gave Biden plenty of attack points against the President. While Trump tied to counter these attacks – both by arguing Biden would have done a worse job if in power, and by attempting to link him to the failures of public safety in Democrat-run cities – but Biden consistently stuck to the issues.

Biden evoked nostalgia for the Obama era

Aside from giving Democrats the hope or a return to pre-Trump days, having spent eight years as Barack Obama’s Vice President, it can be expected that there will be some continuity from Obama’s presidency into a potential Biden presidency. Indeed, when the debate turned to the Supreme Court and Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, it was the Affordable Care Act -a cornerstone of the Obama presidency – which was the main cause of Biden’s concern, rather than Roe v Wade or any other issue. Biden heralded the successes of the act, expressing that a more conservative-leaning Supreme Court would vote to strike down the Act, and that his campaign was about saving it.

Both candidates refused to oppose things, but especially Trump

Earlier in the debate, Biden refused to say that he would oppose supporting packing of the Supreme Court, which some Democrats have suggested the party could do in response to the President’s nominations to the Supreme Court. However, more telling – and more important, was Trump’s failure to disavow white supremacy, specifically the white supremacist group Proud Boys, instead turning his attack on far-left groups and disorder in Democrat-run cities. For many, this will be too close to the President’s unwillingness to condemn white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

But Biden pushed away from the left of his party

“I am the Democratic Party” is likely to be one of the more memorable lines of the debate. Joe Biden’s affirmation signalled that he is in charge of the Democratic Party, rather than being controlled be the left-most end of the party, home to more left-wing figures such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and others. In his dialogue, despite declining or say he wouldn’t pack the Supreme Court, Biden laid clear his support good police officers and decrying violent protests, whilst not putting down environmental concerns and upholding the need to create jobs, particularly in the Midwest.

Is the first debate is likely to change anything?

Maybe, maybe not. Early polling after the debate showed that a majority of voters – 57% – said that their voting intention had not changed as a result of the showdown. However, Biden doesn’t appear to have been harmed at all by his performance: 32% of voters said that they were more moved to vote for Biden following the debate (compared to 11% for Trump). However, Biden may have received a better boost as a result of the debate: 59% of voters said that Biden’s performance in the debate had better addressed their concerns about his candidacy, meaning that his ability to hold his own may have quieted some voters concerns about his health, age and mental capacity in this campaign. However, we cannot look too deeply into post-debate polls; in the first debate of the 2016 Presidential Election, voters felt that Hillary Clinton won by 62% to 27% for Trump.

There are still two debates between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, as well as a Vice Presidential debate to take place before the election on November 3rd. Biden may have succeeded in carrying himself through last night’s debate, but with the major issues of the campaign – COVID, the economy, racial tensions, the Supreme Court – already out of the way, will Biden have enough ammunition to keep up his game against the President. Over the next five weeks, we may be able to see through polling and public reaction how these crucial debates may shape the campaign.

Who is Amy Coney Barrett?

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Putting aside for now my previous arguments as to whether or not a Justice should be nominated at this time to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court of the United States, Donald Trump is soon expected to announce his nominee for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. With the President having said that he will nominate a woman to the seat, one particular candidate is expected to be announced as the successor to Ginsburg following the Justice’s death a week ago: Amy Coney Barrett.

Barrett first came to prominence in 2018 as a previous potential Supreme Court nominee, along with Brett Kavanaugh, to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Second time around, it looks like she may receive the nomination. But who exactly is she, and what kind of Justice might she be? Let’s get to know her.

Barrett is 48, and earned her Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School. Following that, she spent two years as a clerk, firstly for Laurence Silberman, a Justice on the D.C. Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, and then for Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Following this, and after a two-year stint in private practice, she moved in to academia, teaching at both Notre Dame and George Washington University.

In May 2017, President Trump nominated Barrett to the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Barrett’s nomination was not a straightforward one, however, and attention was drawn during the hearing process to her conservative Catholic religious views: in 2015, Barrett endorsed a letter supporting the Catholic Church’s view of marriage being between a man and a woman, among other views, which raised questions about how she might rule on cases related to LGBT issues. Ultimately, the Senate voted to approve Barrett by a 55-43 vote, with the support of every Republican and three Democratic Senators.

So, given her background, what kind of Justice might Amy Coney Barrett be, if she is successfully nominated? Needless to say, as a conservative, not only would Barrett tip the scales of the Supreme Court further to the Conservative end, she would be replacing one of the most liberal voices on the Supreme Court, which would make the conservative tip all the more effective. As such, some liberals may be concerned about what a more conservative Supreme Court might with regard to landmark cases, such as Roe v Wade.

Concern for the upholding of Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 case which protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose an abortion – is often brought up by opponents of conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, as many liberals fear that an overly conservative court might vote to overturn the landmark case. Barrett has expressed her belief that abortion is “always immoral”. However, Barrett, while standing by her position, has stated that “my views on this or any other question will have no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge”. Indeed, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network has described Barrett as a “well-qualified, impressive, experienced [judge] who will apply the rule of law fairly”.

One other element of concern could be with Barrett’s lack of experience: at 48, she would be the youngest Supreme Court Justice if confirmed (although five years older than Clarence Thomas was when he was confirmed), and has only served as a Court of Appeals Justice for three years. However, that is still more experience than Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts had, as well as Elena Kagan, who had never served as a judge before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama in 2009. Barrett has said of Kagan, a fellow academic, that “the knowledge and skill she acquired as an academic to the practical resolution of disputes” makes her a skilled Justice.

It is likely that, on Saturday, President Trump will announce Amy Coney Barrett as his pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Whatever her qualities and her flaws may be, her nomination will appear against a difficult backdrop: a looming Presidential election, the future balance of the Senate in question, and the controversy of rushing through a Supreme Court nomination in the midst of a Presidential Election campaign, and replacing a very liberal Justice with a conservative nominee. How all of this will impact her nomination, and whether Barrett can receive a fair hearing – or even a hearing at all – remains to be seen.

McConnell is wrong – and hypocritical – to seek a Supreme Court hearing before the election

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died on Friday at the age of 87. The Justice, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993, was a noted fighter for liberal positions on the court on matters such as abortion and Affirmative Action, and she was respected even by those who did not necessarily share her views.

While the main priority is that Ginsburg’s family and supporters should be allowed time to grieve for her passing, the fact remains that, barely six weeks before the Presidential Election, her death will put the issue of the Supreme Court back at the front and centre of the election. However, finding a suitable replacement for Justice Ginsburg needs to be one of the President’s priorities for the start of the next Presidential term in January – whomever the President may be. It would be a disrespect to Ginsburg’s memory as well as an insult to American democracy to attempt to do so in the last few weeks before a Presidential Election. With that said, it is profoundly disappointing to hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announce that he will seek to get a hearing on the Senate floor for President Donald Trump’s replacement for Justice Ginsburg before November’s election.

Back in 2016, during the closing months of Barack Obama’s presidency, Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court as a successor to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on February 13th of that year. At the time, McConnell said that “the nomination should be made by the president the people elect in the election”. I actually agree with this position, as I did at the time: the Supreme Court forms part of the checks-and-balances system of American government, and should not reflect a president’s – least of all, an outgoing or potentially outgoing president’s – legacy. When a Supreme Court vacancy arises in a Presidential Election year, the American people should vote in that election in the full knowledge that the winning candidate will fill the vacancy.

However, McConnell has gone back on all of that with his statement on Ginsburg’s passing. This, despite saying himself back in 2017 that “if the shoe had been on the other foot [with the nomination of Garland], [the Democrats] wouldn’t have filled a Republican president’s vacancy…in the middle of a presidential election”, as well as despite the fact Garland’s nomination came nearly eight months before the election, as opposed to six weeks in this case. You couldn’t make it up.

I previously criticized Senate Democrats for opposing Trump’s Supreme Court nominations of both Scalia’s eventual replacement Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh purely out of spite for the Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing on Garland in a Presidential Election year. And while completely I stand by that criticism, there is no defence for McConnell’s rank hypocrisy over Ginsburg’s replacement. If a hearing is ultimately held before this Presidential term is over, the Democrats would be justified in blocking the nomination purely based on McConnell’s willingness to break his own standard. After all, as McConnell himself said, “it’s about the principle, not the person”.

It is time for McConnell to stick to his own rule: there must be no talk of a replacement Justice for Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat until after the election. As I said earlier, voters can go the the polls in November’s Presidential Election knowing that the winning candidate will fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and cast their vote according to whom they would like to fill the seat. Furthermore, if President Trump wins re-election, he also has a golden opportunity to show America that he cares about the Supreme Court’s integrity and balance by nominating a liberal or liberal-leaning Justice; that would be the right thing to do in order to maintain the balance of the court. Then a proper hearing can take place without the looming threat of an election, and the Senate can vote on the candidate as they should: based on their ability and qualification, rather than by ideology and partisan spite.

Opposition to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh arguably ended the careers of a handful of Democratic senators in 2018. With the Republicans currently trailing the Democrats in some key Senate races this year, it might be in Mitch McConnell’s interest to consider his position of Senate Majority Leader above rushing to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

When the Guardian tried to influence the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio

Littleton & Rue Funeral Home and Crematory | Springfield, OH

The clock tower at Clark County Heritage Center is a recognisable landmark in Springfield, Ohio

Sixteen years ago, in the run-up to the 2004 Presidential Election – when George W Bush was running for re-election for a second term as President of the United States – Ohio was widely seen as the state which would decide the election. After all, Ohio at the time was still considered to be a bellwether state, having voted for the eventual President in every election since 1964.

Clark County, Ohio was likely to be a key battleground which would determine the result of the election in Ohio. Four years earlier, Vice President Al Gore beat then-Texas Governor Bush in Clark County by just 324 votes, despite losing Ohio to Bush by 165,000 votes overall. The characteristics of Clark County have always made for interesting elections: the county seat and largest city, Springfield, with a metro area home to 138,000 people, has historically been a hive of blue-collar industry, and the patent for the airplane was written in Springfield. However, along with much of the Midwest, Springfield saw a decline in its industrial base during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Anticipating that the voters of Clark County could play a pivotal role in swaying the 2004 election result, the UK’s Guardian newspaper decided to launch a campaign – entitled Operation Clark County – to try and influence the outcome of the election in Clark County, and therefore the result in Ohio – and thus the 2004 Presidential election. Ian Katz, editor of the Guardian’s supplementary G2 feature, had an idea: readers of the newspaper who wished to participate in the campaign would be given the name and address of an undecided voter in Clark County (taken from a county voting list Katz had purchased for $25), and they would write to them to persuade them how to vote in the election. If that wasn’t enough, the Guardian would then offer to send four lucky winners – letter senders picked at random – out to Clark County in order to see the campaign and meet some of the voters they had written to.

To paraphrase the Guardian’s rationale for running the campaign, the newspaper felt that US foreign policy would influence UK government policy. For example, the Iraq War had proved unpopular in the UK, despite then-Prime Minister Tony Blair putting the UK at a central role in the war, and this was a major catalyst which helped bring the campaign about. Despite this huge influence, Katz thought, British citizens weren’t in turn able to vote in the Presidential Election. Thus, the Guardian aimed to encourage its readers to play their part in influencing voting behaviour in Clark County by having them write to Independent and undecided voters. While the Guardian never explicitly stated at the launch of the campaign that it was a pro-Kerry campaign, the newspaper made little effort to hide the fact that their preference – and that of their readers – was for John Kerry and the Democrats to oust President Bush (the Guardian formally endorsed Kerry a few days before the election). Ultimately, around 14,000 Guardian readers – including notable figures such as Richard Dawkins, John Le Carré and Antonia Fraser – would send letters to Clark County residents. What could go wrong?

So a large number of letters were sent out, but how successful was the campaign? Put simply – and as one could probably imagine of a campaign involving Guardian readers trying to persuade voters in Ohio to vote for John Kerry – Operation Clark County bombed. A variety of responses – some more colourful than others – were sent back to the Guardian, and the newspaper withdrew the campaign after just a week due to the overwhelmingly negative reception from voters in Clark County and elsewhere (although the Guardian would claim their campaign was compromised by hackers). If the negative campaign reception wasn’t enough, the result of the 2004 Presidential Election in Clark County was ultimately a swing away from the Democrats, with George W Bush finishing 1,400 votes clear of John Kerry: Bush took 50.8% of the Clark County vote to Kerry’s 48.7%. Fascinatingly, these shares were almost identical to their statewide vote shares in Ohio; Bush ultimately carried Ohio with 50.8% of the vote – marginally up from the 49.97% he took four years previously – compared to Kerry’s 48.7%.

So the election clearly didn’t deliver the result the Guardian was hoping for. But why did the campaign fail so badly? It would seem that reception for the campaign in Ohio was tepid at best, and interpreted as interfering arrogance at worst. It would also appear that, by and large, voters in Clark County didn’t hugely appreciate receiving letters from British strangers who were trying to explain their own politics to them while encouraging them to vote for John Kerry. Even Sharon Manitta, the chair of the UK branch of Democrats Abroad, knew that the stunt would only help Bush to win votes.

So while the campaign didn’t work, a glaring question still remains: why did The Guardian think this campaign would work? Why did Katz, The Guardian, and its readers who wrote letters expect that voters in Clark County would listen to them?

Katz wrote in an editorial after the campaign’s closure that he thought “a letter from a concerned Brit [to a Clark County voter] would be received more like a plea from an old friend”, later dismissing the campaign’s failure by saying that “parts of America have become so isolationist that even the idea of individuals receiving letters from foreigners is enough to give politicians the collywobbles”. However, it is both possible and extremely likely that Katz and the Guardian – as well as some of their readers who took part in the campaign – simply did not sufficiently understand the demographic of the voters they were trying to speak to. As it is, The Guardian is known for its left-leaning and liberal slant, and the term “Guardian Readers” is often used pejoratively to refer to someone of a certain class or circumstance who is overly liberal or politically correct: the Collins English Dictionary defines the term “Guardian readers” as “a reader of the Guardian newspaper, seen as being typically left-wing, liberal, and politically correct”. Indeed, stereotypical Guardian readers in the UK are often synonymously compared to the oft-mentioned and so-named metropolitan liberal elite.

The term “metropolitan liberal elite” is not a term I nor many academics enjoy using, but the phenomenon is real. David Morgan, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester, describes the “Metropolitan Liberal Elite” in the British context as “includ[ing], among others, pro-European politicians, sections of the media (especially the BBC and the Guardian), people living in London, some professionals and many academics, and generally people with large amounts of economic, social and cultural capitals.”[1] Indeed, according to the Guardian’s own data from 2013, 59% of its readers identified as the AB social class – more than twice the UK average – with 86% identifying as ABC1 class. Meanwhile, 65% of the Guardian’s readers are degree educated or higher, nearly three times the national average for the UK, compared to fewer than one-in-five Clark County residents. In 2005, more than 80% of the Guardian’s readers identified as Labour or Liberal Democrat voters. There is also a sizeable income disparity between the Guardian’s readership and the population of Clark County: the average Guardian reader’s individual income in 2013 was £31,385 (nearly $41,000 in 2020), while the average household income was £59,764 (nearly $78,000 in 2020 money). Conversely, the average Clark County resident earns $25948 (just under £20,000 in 2020) while the average household in 2018 saw an income of $48,502 (just over £37,000).

Given this information, I am not certain why the Guardian felt that their army of largely metropolitan, comfortable, well-meaning but oh-so-very-concerned British liberals were the best-placed to initiate a one-sided conversation on how blue collar Ohioans should vote, much less why they felt they would or should be listened to. Life in refined suburbs and gentrified areas of London is perfectly good for university-educated Guardian readers, but Clark County is a clearly hugely different place to Highgate or Islington (and one which I would wager few of the Guardian’s letter writers truly understood). Imagine a similar campaign in which wealthier Democrats from San Francisco, Los Angeles or the suburbs of New York and Washington DC wrote to rural voters in Ohio advising them on how to vote; the reaction you would get would most likely be the same.

Katz himself said that he “didn’t believe” cautions against the campaign from Democratic strategists, believing that the campaign “would [not] ever reach a scale that would have any real impact on the election”. Indeed, we will never know for certain what, if any, impact Operation Clark County really had on the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio, or if the campaign contributed to the county’s ultimate swing towards Bush. However, the one of the main achievements of Operation Clark County is that the reputation of so-called “Guardian readers” was reinforced; if anything, with a growing urban-rural divide in America, it is more important than ever to use effective dialogue to bridge the growing gap between urban and rural voters, and to promote and seek out a deeper understanding of each other’s position. In assuming that a largely blue collar voter population of Clark County would be keen to hear from and take voting advice from middle-class, urban and suburban British liberals whom they had never met, Katz and The Guardian demonstrated the very lack of understanding which has helped to drive this divide.

Ohio as a state has moved further towards the Republicans since 2004, and Clark County has voted Republican in every election since. I would not recommend that The Guardian tries a similar stunt again in Clark County: Donald Trump won in the county by 12,000 votes in 2016.

[1] Morgan, David, Snobbery: The Practices of Distinction, 2018, Bristol: Bristol University Press, p111

My first 2020 Presidential Election projection: Biden 304, Trump 234

Now that convention season is underway ahead of November’s elections in the US, I thought I would take a look – just over two months ahead – of what I think the outcome of the presidential election will look like. Now that Kamala Harris has been confirmed as the Joe Biden’s Democratic running mate (while Donald Trump is running for a second term), we can start making some suggestions as to what the Electoral College map might look like after November 3. At this point, most suggestions are that Biden could be on course to win.

To begin with, I do not expect we are going to see Biden (or Trump, for that matter) winning an Electoral College landslide, so I feel the chances of states such as Texas or Georgia going blue are too slim at this point. To that end, these two states – along with Iowa, Ohio, and the 2nd Congressional Districts of both Nebraska and Maine – are staying with Trump in November’s election.

Now for the key states. Let’s start with the Rust Belt: the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania famously gave Trump the victory in 2016 by a combined lead of 78,000 votes; Biden would potentially only need to turn half that number of voters over to his side in order to carry those states, and thus the election. 270 To Win gives Biden a 5.4-point average lead in Wisconsin, a 7.6-point lead in Michigan and a 7.3-point lead in Pennsylvania, so these are all promising for Biden. However, Hillary Clinton enjoyed similar polling leads in these states before the election; if the Democrats continue to fail on their messaging as we head towards November, particularly in the Rust Belt, then there is a chance yet that Trump could pull off a shock win a second time in a row. However, my current feeling is that lightning may not strike twice here, and so at this point these states are Biden’s to lose.

One state that is receiving a lot of attention in this Presidential Election is Arizona. Joe Biden has a good opportunity to turn the Grand Canyon State blue for the first time since 1996 (and for only the second time since 1952). Indeed, Biden has been consistently leading in the polls in the state, holding an average 3-point lead over the President, who won the state 4 years ago. However, Biden may well be aided further by the hotly-contested Senate special election taking place in Arizona at the same time: this race – to serve for the last two years of John McCain’s Senate term – is a key target for the Democrats in the Senate, and former astronaut Mark Kelly is hoping to take the seat from Martha McSally. As it stands, McSally is trailing Kelly quite considerably in the polls, and a win for Kelly would mean the Democrats would hold both of Arizona’s Senate seats, and could help buoy Biden in the Presidential race.

North Carolina was more difficult for me to pin down in this scenario. The state has been an important swing state in recent years, although it has only voted for the Democratic candidate at the Presidential level twice since 1968 (in 1976 and 2008). In my opinion, North Carolina is one of the most important swing states today, and will likely give us the closest to an indication of how the election might go (Ohio is not a bellwether state, for those of you who are still uncertain). And so as a potential bellwether state, I am putting it in Biden’s column at this point. Trump won the state by three-and-a-half points in 2016, however, like in Arizona, North Carolina will also see a key Senate race, with Democrat Cal Cunningham looking to oust Thom Tillis (Cunningham has been enjoying some fairly consistent polling leads), and possibly giving Biden some more leverage in the Presidential Election. On the other hand, Tar Heel State voters split their tickets in 2016, electing Democrat Roy Cooper as North Carolina Governor whilst voting for Trump for President, so it may not be that straightforward at that.

However, despite suggesting Biden may flip a number of states, one state I am leaving in Trump’s column at this time is Florida. While I admit this is mostly on a gut feeling, there are two main points which keep the state’s 29 votes in Trump’s column for now: firstly, Florida is now Donald Trump’s home state – having switched his main residence from New York City – and this may give him a small home advantage. Secondly, Florida ultimately skewed more Republican than expected in both 2016 during the Presidential Election, and 2018 in both the Gubernatorial race (where, in the final week of the campaign, Democrat Andrew Gillum was enjoying poll leads as high as 7 points, before ultimately losing the race to Ron DeSantis) and Senate election (in which the Democrats lost out by just 0.13% of the vote). While it won’t be enough to guarantee him re-election, I feel Trump’s chances of holding Florida are thus far understated. Both 270 To Win and RealClearPolitics currently give Biden a 5-point lead on average; this is one race I expect to tighten over the next two months.

So at this still-early stage in the election, Biden is most likely favoured to win. However, two months is still a long time, and polls can often tighten close to the election, and – as we have seen before – polling does not always provide an accurate indication of what may happen. As such, this map may well get updated and adjusted as the campaign continues.

Who might Biden pick as his running mate? A look at some possible candidates

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Senator Kamala Harris hugs Joe Biden at a Michigan campaign event in March

It was reported this week that Democratic nominee for President, former Vice President Joe Biden, will announce his nominee for Vice President to take on Donald Trump in November’s Presidential Election. Biden has pledged that he will choose a woman as his running mate, and the eventual candidate will become the fourth woman to appear on a major party Presidential ticket (after Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Sarah Palin in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016).

While Biden and his team have their own vetting list, several potential candidates’ names have been touted by media and commentators as possible picks, so here I’m going to take a look at some of the possible candidates, and how they might help (or hinder) Joe Biden’s chances of becoming the 46th President.

 

Kamala Harris

The 55-year-old California Senator and former California Attorney General is one of the most likely picks for Biden’s running mate; Harris herself ran for the Democratic Nomination for President, dropping out before the primaries due to low polling figures. However, Harris is energetic with a good support base, and while she has only been a Senator since 2017, she has a wealth of experience from her home state and has been a champion of progressive liberal issues. Her appeal to independent and swing voters may more limited in purple states though.

However, a number of Democrats and Biden allies have concerns about Harris being on the ticket: with Biden likely being a one-term President at most (if he is elected at all), wary Democrats feel that Harris could simply see the Vice President slot as a route to shoehorning herself into the Oval Office, and that her place on the ticket could be more about her ambition than serving the country.

 

Tammy Duckworth

Like Harris, Duckworth has only served in the Senate since 2017, having previously represented Illinois in the US House of Representatives. However, the 52-year-old has credentials as a veteran and war hero: Duckworth was a former helicopter pilot in the US Army who lost both her legs in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

Whilst Illinois – like California – is a solidly blue state, Duckworth’s veteran credentials could appeal to more conservative-leaning independents, and would likely be a reassurance to wavering voters who may be concerned that the Democratic ticket – and party as a whole – might be too progressive. Duckworth also has good bipartisan credentials, having served on President Donald Trump’s task force on re-opening the US economy beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Val Demings

While Demings may not be a household name, she could be a strategic pick for the Democrats: the 63-year-old Representative from Florida’s 10th Congressional District may have only been serving since 2017, but before entering Congress, she capped a 27-year law enforcement career by serving as the Chief of the Orlando Police Department.

As an African-American, Demings would give Biden the opportunity to pick a woman of colour as his running mate; something he has been encouraged to do in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. As a former police officer, Demings could also use her experience to bridge the divide between the fight for civil rights and the need for law and order, the latter being a message President Trump is pushing hard. Furthermore, with Trump now claiming Florida as his home state, Demings could help to claim some more local support for Biden.

 

Gretchen Whitmer

Despite only having been in office since 2019, the 48-year-old Michigan governor has already made a name for herself. When she took office, Whitmer was quick to snipe the issue of infrastructure – something that Donald Trump looked to champion in his 2016 election campaign – pledging to fix and invest in roads. A year later, Whitmer was selected to give the Democratic response to President Trump’s State Of The Union Address in February 2020, and since then she has led the response to the growing Covid-19 pandemic in her state.

Despite Whitmer’s relative lack of experience in office (despite having previously been the Michigan Senate Minority Leader) Michigan is obviously a key swing state in 2020, and with Whitmer on the ticket the Democrats would have some home advantage in the Midwest. However, with Biden already building a lead in Michigan, and Trump pulling some campaign funds from the state, this may not be necessary – although we should have learned by now that we cannot always rely on polls.

 

Keisha Lance Bottoms

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, very few people had heard of Keisha Lance Bottoms. However, the 50-year-old mayor of Atlanta has served the city for ten years, first as a member of the City Council for 8 years, before becoming Mayor in 2018. Her name has gained more recognition, firstly as the pandemic took hold in the US, particularly in the South (Bottoms herself later contracted the virus), and secondly during the Black Lives Matter protests, during which she pledged police reforms after the shooting of Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks.

Bottoms’s home state of Georgia is very much in play in 2020, and so by placing her on the ticket, Biden could be in with a chance to tip the state over to the Democratic column again for the first time since 1992 and could help the Democrats to re-explore their ancestral roots in the Deep South. Besides this, Biden would also have the opportunity to put a woman of colour on the ticket. With her experience serving a major city, Bottoms still has a lot she can give in her career.

 

Karen Bass

Another candidate many outside California may not know, however Karen Bass is well-known and well-respected in her home state. The 66-year-old Representative from California’s 37th District (which she won with 89% of the vote in 2018) previously served as Speaker of the California State Assembly and helped steer the state through the 2008 Financial Crisis.

Bass holds a slew of very liberal positions on both social and economic policies, which are not out-of-place among California Democrats. On the one hand, Bass would satisfy the left wing of the Democratic Party as she would drag the ticket away from the centre. However, her nomination might not go down as well with independent voters and the party in the rest of the US who may feel that the party is too California-centric or progressive. Despite her popularity in California, she may not have the same appeal that other African-American candidates such as Val Demings or Keisha Lance Bottoms might have.

So these are some of the more likely candidates. And now for a couple of others…

 

Stacey Abrams (extremely unlikely)

The former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives was certainly ambitious when she ran for Governor of Georgia in 2018, and the race attracted a lot of attention due to its perceived closeness. Ultimately, the race was indeed close, with Republican Brian Kemp winning by just 55,000 votes, and avoiding a run-off by barely tipping himself over the 50% mark. However, Abrams refused to concede the election, regarding that the election was a failure of democracy (there had been some concerns about vote-rigging and impropriety), although the totals were later reported by every county and an investigation found no evidence of impropriety. To this day, Abrams has still not conceded the election.

In April this year, however, Abrams attempted to step back into the political spotlight, suggesting herself as Biden’s running mate in an interview with Elle Magazine. While Abrams may think of herself as the best choice for Biden’s running mate, her personal ambition to reach high office will likely be more of a liability than an aid, and her appointment would likely be an effective way for Biden to scuttle his own campaign.

 

Michelle Obama (next-to no chance)

If any running mate would take Trump’s opponents back in time four years, it would be Michelle Obama. After 8 years in the White House as First Lady, Michelle has gone on to produce a best-selling book, speaking tour and Netflix series. As a first lady, Michelle Obama was popular, and a much-loved figure like her on the ticket could provide some emotional stability after the turmoil the world has faced in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.

However, there is one problem: Michelle does not want to be President or Vice President, and reportedly hates politics. While many Democrats might hope Michelle Obama could undo four years of Donald Trump, it might be better to simply try and move on.

Once the nominee is chosen, Joe Biden and his running mate will have three months to win the election and deny Donald Trump a second term. While the race is still very much a toss-up, Biden is enjoying some positive polling at the moment, but each of these candidates could pull his campaign in different directions, and could draw appeal from different demographics and areas of the country over others. In those three months, Biden could still slip in the polls, and it will take more than a good running mate to help win a campaign.

Super Tuesday: How Biden managed to win what was Sanders’s to lose

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Super Tuesday turned out to be a great night for Joe Biden. Having had a difficult campaign up until last Saturday’s South Carolina Primary, Biden managed to come from behind to steal several victories from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in states where Sanders has been favoured. Of the 14 states holding Super Tuesday Primaries, Biden won in ten of them, with the remaining four being won by Sanders.

Biden’s sweep of victories included big wins in the South such as North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama (the latter of which he won with 63% of the vote), as well as some states which Sanders was favoured in, including Minnesota, Maine and Massachusetts, and his biggest prize of the night: the former Vice President won Texas, taking 34.5% of the vote to Sanders’s 29.9%.

For Bernie Sanders, Super Tuesday brought a slew of disappointing results. The Vermont Senator claimed victory in four states – Colorado, Utah, his home state of Vermont, and California, his biggest prize – but lost out in many places where he had been expected to do better. In some states which he had carried back in 2016 – namely Minnesota, Maine and Oklahoma – Sanders failed to repeat his victory as he finished behind Biden in each case.

Further behind both Biden and Sanders, however, came Elizabeth Warren, who failed to win a single Super Tuesday state, and indeed failed to place in the top two in any contest; Warren finished third in her home state of Massachusetts, and in some states even finished fourth behind Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg also managed to win the Primary in American Samoa with 50% of the vote).

A further outcome of Super Tuesday’s result was the further narrowing of the Democratic field: billionaire Michael Bloomberg exited the race, saying that he would be endorsing Biden so as to help defeat Donald Trump. On Thursday, Warren also suspended her campaign, having failed to win a single contest thus far. Only Biden, Sanders, and Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard now remain in the race.

So how did Biden manage to do so well? One suggestion would simply be that he is seen as a viable candidate once again. Having won the South Carolina Primary in style, he continued his return from the political dead by picking up wins in states where Sanders had been predicted to win. A second advantage that Biden likely had was in the thinning of the number of candidates immediately prior to Super Tuesday: both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar – two moderates – both withdrew from the race and gave their endorsements to Biden. Meanwhile, Sanders had to fight for the support of more left-minded voters with Warren and – to a lesser extent – Gabbard.

However, it’s not whether or not a candidate wins a state, or how many states they win, that matters; what counts is the number of delegates that each candidate is awarded from each state. And indeed, Sanders had his successes on this front, particularly in California, the largest state in the union and holder of the biggest count of delegates. According to the Associated Press, at the time of writing Sanders had been awarded 186 of California’s 415 available delegates compared to Biden’s 148. This is a huge haul in itself; overall, Sanders pulled in more than 550 delegates across the Super Tuesday states. However, Biden’s total of over 620 delegates awarded was enough to push him into first in the nationwide rankings.

So what does this mean for the rest of the contest? With Super Tuesday out of the way, it looks as if Biden has reclaimed  the status as frontrunner. It looks as if Sanders may have peaked; however, there is one thing that could potentially help re-energise his campaign: an endorsement from Elizabeth Warren. Warren has not at the time of writing endorsed either Biden or Sanders, but having pulled in appeal from many progressive Democrat voters, her potential support for Sanders if she so chose cold help to consolidate those voters in Sander’s camp for the remainder of the campaign. With a second Super Tuesday coming up on March 10th, with six states – Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington – voting, there is potential for Sanders to re-gain some of the ground he lost to Biden, particularly in Washington, which is likely to be high on Sanders’s target list, and Michigan, a state he unexpectedly won in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.

However, with Super Tuesday out of the way, and the 2020 Democratic primary contest down to essentially a two-horse race between Biden and Sanders, the campaign is more reminiscent of the 2016 Democratic campaign now. With Joe Biden having turned Super Tuesday on its head, it looks now as if the nomination could be Biden’s to lose.

South Carolina Primary: The runaway victory that Joe Biden needed

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Joe Biden is back in the race for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, and his supporters can breathe again. The former Vice President, whose campaign was being written off just weeks ago, won the South Carolina Primary in style, topping the poll in every single county in the state.

While Biden was largely expected to win the primary, his share of the vote – 48.66% – was higher than the 39.7% average recorded for him by RealClearPolitics. His closest challenger, frontrunner Bernie Sanders, took 19.76% of the vote. Tom Steyer was third on 11.34% – his strongest performance in the contest (although Steyer withdrew from the race after the Primary). Biden was awarded 39 delegates, more than doubling his nationwide total at the time (taking him to 54), while Sanders received 15.

Biden’s victory can be attributed to his ability to appeal to voters across the board: before the Primary, Biden was the top-polling candidate amongst every race, including African Americans (Biden polled 48% amongst African Americans in the primary), who make up 27% of the state’s population. The Old South, of which South Carolina is part, is historically staunchly Democrat territory and is still home to a lot of ancestral Democrats; this would not normally be considered fertile territory for Sanders.

For Biden, this is the solid victory that he desperately needed, injecting energy and optimism into what had previously been an ageing campaign. His victory in South Carolina also led to the suspension of both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar’s campaigns – and Biden also won the endorsements of both former candidates, as well as former Texas Congressman and Senate and Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Biden’s win sets up the remainder of the Primary contest to be a largely two-way fight between him and Sanders (Elizabeth Warren is not likely to have a huge impact from here on out), and with Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s withdrawals, Biden is left free to pull together the moderate and establishment wings of the party. Heading in to Super Tuesday, Biden can be confident of further wins in the South, including Alabama and North Carolina, an important swing state in November’s Presidential Election.

However, despite Biden’s success on Saturday night, there is still a long road to the nomination. We have only had four contests so far, and there is still every chance of a contested convention potentially throwing the nomination into chaos. That’s to say nothing of the fact that the contest still stands as Bernie Sanders’s to lose, and he himself can be confident of a big haul of delegates on Tuesday night, especially from states such as California and Texas, where he is expected to top the poll in each. So while this was the victory Biden desperately needed, we could come out of Super Tuesday to find Sanders has widened the gap between himself and Biden considerably.

For now though, as we await the Super Tuesday results, the South Carolina Democratic Primary was Biden’s lifeline, and he grasped it with both hands.

What happened to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign?

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Less than 24 hours after Joe Biden’s victory in Saturday’s South Carolina Primary, an unexpected announcement about the 2020 race dropped: former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced he was suspending his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President.

The announcement came as a surprise to many who were following the primaries: “Mayor Pete”, as he is affectionately known, had had a fairly successful run in the early contests, winning the Iowa Democratic Caucus and tying with Bernie Sanders for first place on delegates in the New Hampshire Primary. Before Saturday, Buttigieg was the second-placed candidate in the contest behind Sanders; it was only former Vice President Joe Biden’s runaway win in the South Carolina primary which nudged Buttigieg down into third place.

A lot of speculation is being afforded to why exactly Buttigieg chose to end his Presidential campaign when he did: some have suggested that this might have been a strategic move by Buttigieg to leave his voters and delegated free to support more moderate candidates such as Biden. Some have also raised suspicions that an offer may have been made to Buttigieg to drop out: perhaps the offer of a cabinet position or perhaps even the vice presidential slot on the ticket. However, we can draw some clues for Buttigieg’s decision from recent polling.

Whilst Buttigieg’s Super Tuesday polling was looking reasonably consistent across the board, ranging from upper single digits to the mid-double digits, but was languishing behind leading candidates such as Sanders and, crucially, Biden. Polling was even putting Buttigieg in fifth in multiple states, including delegate-heavy states of California, Texas and North Carolina. These three states hold just over 750 delegates between them, and poor performances in those states would have left him without a chance of catching the frontrunners, especially if Sanders took healthy victories in California and Texas.

Another suggestion as to why Buttigieg’s campaign fell a little flat was the voter demographics he appealed to: Buttigieg was popular with white, college educated voters, but failed to make significant ground with African American and Latino voters. While an Emerson College poll from February 19-20 showed that Buttigieg was polling at 24.4% with Latinos in Nevada – a state where 29% of the population identify as Hispanic or Latino – a separate Emerson College poll from February 29-March 1 found that Buttigieg was on just 3% with Texas Latinos, who in turn make up 39.6% of the state’s population. Over in South Carolina, Buttigieg polled just 6% with African Americans who make up 27.1% of the state’s population.

Buttigieg’s failure to appeal across different demographics is probably the primary suggestion for his decision to suspend his campaign. Based on the Super Tuesday polling, he probably sensed that his campaign was stalling, even with a slate of 14 states voting in the contest (it’s important to remember that, in many states, 15% of the vote is the threshold required to be awarded any delegates; even if Buttigieg had received 14% of the vote he might not have been rewarded any). However, he has quickly thrown himself back in to the campaign, endorsing Joe Biden along with Amy Klobuchar – who also exited the race – and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke.

While Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is over, he and his campaign have a lot to be proud of. Despite his age – just 38 at the end of his campaign – and relative inexperience, Buttigieg had built up a reputation as a moderate who aimed to understand the issues which had drawn swing voters to Donald Trump in 2016. It’s too early to say what his role in a potential Democratic administration after 2020 would be, but what we can all safely say is that we have not seen the last of Mayor Pete.

Catch up on Nevada: Sanders wins again, and what this means going forward

Saturday saw the third contest in the race to pick the Democratic challenger to Donald Trump: the Democratic caucus in the state of Nevada.

Whilst the state of Nevada has a small and sparse population, with most of the state’s population being confined to the Las Vegas metro area, the Silver State remains an important swing state as far as national politics goes. Nevada has long been a purple state and a fairly reliable bellwether: the state has voted for the winning candidate in all but seven Presidential election since its statehood in 1864 – including all but two elections (1976 and 2016) since 1908. The state is also home to a large Hispanic population, with 29% of the state’s population identifying as such. While the Nevada Caucus is a small stage in the nomination process, the results can give us some useful clues about how the individual candidates might perform in the long run.

As it happens, the result of the caucus was pretty clear: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the contest by a considerable margin, taking 46.8% of the vote when all votes were counted. Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaign was looking doomed just a few days ago, finished second with 20.2% of the vote. Not far behind him was Mayor Pete Buttigieg on 14.3%, with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren further back with 9.7%.

Unlike a primary system, which involved a straight vote with delegates being awarded on either a proportional or winner-take-all basis, Nevada’s voting takes place at the precinct level: after a first round of voting, any candidate who fails to achieve 15% of the vote has their votes re-allocated in the final round. From there, an estimated total of delegates will be awarded to the candidates. Sanders took 24 of the 36 available delegates, Biden took 9 and Buttigieg the remaining three. However, like in Iowa, there were a number of issues with the reporting of results from the Nevada caucus, including delayed results (some results were still awaited two days after the close of polls), confusing rules and some alleged irregularities in the voting process.

For Sanders, the result from Nevada is very encouraging for a man looking to cement his status as the frontrunner in the contest. Sanders was able to enjoy a much stronger lead in Nevada than he had in either Iowa or New Hampshire, where he had been tussling with Pete Buttigieg for the top spot.

Joe Biden, who was a fairly respectable second, has probably just about done enough to survive at this point, at least until Super Tuesday. He is expected to do reasonably well in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, which could certainly help to buoy him. For Pete Buttigieg, whilst he finished a distant third in Nevada, he is still currently second in the runnings behind Sanders, and his strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshere can easily compensate for his third place finish. Pete Buttigieg certainly looks like he could enjoy a positive string of Super Tuesday states, including possibly Minnesota, California and Maine.

Elizabeth Warren’s position, however, continues to look uncertain. Warren is currently the fourth-placed candidate in the nomination process, only ahead of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar by a single delegate. While she is likely to stay in the contest until Super Tuesday, she ideally needs at least a couple of solid performances that day, including in her home state of Massachusetts, to have any chance of survival. Even then, just surviving will not be enough to catch Sansers, especially if he continues his winning streak through Super Tuesday.

Of course, amongst all this analysis, we cannot forget to mention another success story from the night: Tom Steyer topped the poll in one county in Nevada, winning Mineral County with a total of 16 votes out of 53 cast, just edging out Buttigieg by a single vote.

So we move onwards to the South Carolina Primary on Saturday March 29th, and Super Tuesday beyond that on March 3rd. With the concentration of primaries on Super Tuesday, there is the potential for a lot to change; we are only three contests in, after all. However, it does look increasingly like the contest could be Sanders’s to lose.