Campaign dollars, not ideas, narrow 2020 Democratic presidential field


The old canard that every mother’s son or daughter can run for president has become a joke.

The Democratic National Committee’s qualifications for its televised 2020 debates require high donor and dollar lists, meaning at least half of the remaining 14 declared candidates will be excluded from Tuesday night’s Iowa debate in Des Moines.

That fact was a decider in the recent decision of Rep. Julian Castro of Texas, a former Obama housing secretary, to drop out of the race.

It also so far excludes the remaining announced African American candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The latest campaign fund-raising reports qualify six surviving contenders: former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and billionaire Tom Steyer, who barely made the cut.

Sanders led the pack, reporting $34.5 million in 2019 fourth-quarter donations, to a surprising $24.7 million for Buttigieg and $22.7 million for Biden, an increase of $7 million over the previous quarter, keeping his candidacy afloat.

Beyond such fund-raising, notable are state polls in Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida showed the former vice president as the only Democrat beating Trump if the election were held today.

But the fourth-quarter filings found Trump raising another $46 million, giving him more than $100 million to spend over this year.

Evidence of Sanders’ concern over Biden’s stubborn survival came recently in Iowa, where he sharpened his attack on the former veep in a Washington Post interview. He questioned whether Biden at 77 with a long record of ups and downs had the wherewithal to defeat the incumbent.

“It’s just a lot of baggage that Joe takes into a campaign, which isn’t going to create energy and excitement,” Sanders told The Post, in an obvious comparison to his own lively and charged-up campaign rallies.

“He brings into this campaign a record which is so weak that it just cannot create the kind of excitement and energy that is going to be needed to defeat Donald Trump.”

Sanders’s comparison came as he appeared to be effectively overcoming public and press concern about his own ability to bounce back from a recent heart attack that his doctors have reported did not impair his ability to serve as president.

But it also came amid the political calendar of the oncoming Senate impeachment trial against Trump, which might force the three Democratic senators competing in the Feb. 3 Iowa precinct caucuses to stay in Washington when they want be in the state campaigning for themselves. That circumstance could work to Biden’s advantage, as he has no longer has any official governmental obligation to cast a vote on the impeachment.

Sanders’s open attack on Biden came after a long period when the Vermont senator essentially ignored him, more engaged in countering competition from Warren. Early on, she embraced his support of Medicare For All, advocating an end to private-industry health care insurance.

But Biden’s plan to save such coverage as an option for voters has appealed to millions of private policyholders whose premiums are paid by employers or unions.

Warren soon embraced it as well, potentially leaving Sanders as the main advocate of Medicare For All.

For many years, the Iowa caucuses have been the first primary voting event and very important in launching a Democratic presidential campaign.

By now, however, the race for the Democratic nomination has become a much more complicated, costly and grinding exercise in which no single state is likely to determine the party’s 2020 standard-bearer.

Unlike in primary states, where voters merely show up at the polls or mail in their ballots, Iowans are required to attend long discussions and debate before awarding their support.

Yet the opportunity to score an early success or upset makes Iowa hard for hopeful candidates to resist, or for political junkies not to tune in for the Feb.3 caucus results.

Email Jules Witcover at juleswitcovercomcast.net.