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Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

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We're heading towards March 3rd, "Super Tuesday," and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains competitive. A field of 29 candidates has been winnowed to eight: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. Here's my evaluation of the Democratic survivors.

The February 10th Qunnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655 ) provided us with fresh insight on the state of the Democratic race: "[Bernie] Sanders gets 25 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while [Joe] Biden gets 17 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg receives 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren gets 14 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg receives 10 percent, and Senator Amy Klobuchar gets 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent." In other words, heading into Super Tuesday, there are six viable contenders: Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer appear to have fallen far behind.

In evaluating the top six candidates, I'm using four different criteria: (1) who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump; (2) who does the most to strengthens the overall Democratic ticket; (3) who has the best perspective on "renewing" the presidency, and (4) who champions the best policies.

Who would beat Trump: No matter which of these six candidates is picked to oppose Trump, most Democrats will vote for them. The February 10th Quinnipiac poll reported: "A mong all registered voters, Democratic candidates lead President Trump in general election matchups by between 4 and 9 percentage points: Bloomberg tops Trump 51 - 42 percent; Sanders defeats Trump 51 - 43 percent; Biden beats Trump 50 - 43 percent; Klobuchar defeats Trump 49 - 43 percent; Warren wins narrowly over Trump 48 - 44 percent; [and] Buttigieg is also slightly ahead of Trump 47 - 43 percent."

Quinnipiac provides no insight into what fuels these differences, but here are a couple of suggestions: the ultimate 2020 campaign can either be a referendum solely about Trump or it can be a "Which candidate is the least worse" such as the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump. If the contest becomes a Trump referendum, then it will focus on Trump's handling of the economy. (Quinnipiac noted: "Voters approve 54 - 42 percent of [Trump's] handling of the economy.") In that contest, Bloomberg would be the best Democratic candidate to attack Trump's "stewardship" of the economy.

Of course there will be mudslinging, but in a Trump referendum contest: Bloomberg gets the best mark of 3; Warren and Klobuchar get 2; and the others score 1.

There's another way to look at the question of who can beat Trump: who would be best to counter the Trump-campaign disinformation juggernaut? (It's rumored that Trump has raised $1 billion to campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and similar social-media outlets.(https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/ )) The only Democratic candidate that has a shot countering this is Bloomberg. So he gets a bonus point.

Who Strengthens the Overall Democratic Ticket: In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate. If "Moscow Mitch" McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives. So the question is: who will be the best candidate to organize Democrats to make sure they win across the board?

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there's a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally -- a Trump acolyte. In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she'll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly -- husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump. Which 2020 presidential candidate would have the best chance of turning Arizona blue and helping Mark Kelly win the Senate seat? From here, it would seem that Biden, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar would do the best job, because they are centrist candidates. Possibly Pete Buttigieg but he is not well known in Arizona. Because of their brand of liberalism, Sanders and Warren would not play as well.

We can carry this analysis through all the states with a contested Senatorial contest: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina.

Here's my ranking of the candidates on this vector: (3) Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, (2) Buttigieg, and (1) Sanders and Warren.

Who renews the presidency: It goes without saying that Donald Trump has divided the nation and demeaned the Presidency. (Even Trump voters don't like his behavior; they have chosen to ignore his Tweets and manic outbursts.)

Which Democratic candidate would be the best choice to unite the nation, bring dignity back to the White House and civility back to the halls of Congress? At one time, I thought this perspective favored Joe Biden. Now I would add Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.

Another way to parse this factor is to ask: Which of these six candidates is likely to get the most votes from folks who do not traditionally vote Democrat? I'd say this is Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden.

Who champions the best policies: Indivisible (https://scorecard.indivisible.org ) rated the candidates' policy platforms. Based on that, Warren and Sanders get a 3, Buttigieg a 2, and Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Biden a 1. (Mike Bloomberg didn't get rated by Indivisible but his policies are very similar to those of Amy Klobuchar.)

While the Democratic primaries may be policy oriented, I suspect that the general election will have a more narrow focus: Trump's "leadership;" the economy; global climate change; health care; and immigration. All of the top six Democratic candidates are a strong alternative to Trump. Nonetheless, Bloomberg would do better on the economy.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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