Presidential Contenders: Part 9 of 10

Lent is over, and with it my abstinence from liquor and fried food. Since the last entry in my presidential candidates series, the GOP field has narrowed at last to three, while the Democratic side remains a battle between front runner Hillary Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders. Since the GOP candidates have all been profiled, save a few also-ran figures, it’s high time I turn to the Democratic side.

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
Occupation: former U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013), U.S. Senator from New York (2001-2009), First Lady of the U.S. (1993-2001), First Lady of Arkansas (1979-1981, 1983-1992)
Hometown: Chicago, IL & New York, NY
Education: B.A., Wellesley College; J.D., Yale University

Everyone knew Hillary Clinton was going to run for president in 2016. She was the once and former front runner for the Democratic nomination, having run a hard-fought campaign that eventually conceded the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008 after a long and drawn-out fight in the primaries. More so than any other candidate this year (or maybe ever), Clinton has been a prominent national figure for well over two decades. Polarizing, perhaps, for much of this time, but a household name regardless.

As the former link (an NPR article) describes, Clinton is more or less running as an incumbent, for President Obama’s third term. Maybe an interesting turn of events, given the acrimony that characterized her primary battle with the president on whose Cabinet she ended up serving, but perhaps not after all. Despite the ongoing scandal surrounding her use of a private email server and address to handle government business while she headed the State Department, she has weathered that and other controversies, amassing a considerable delegate lead with a string of victories in the primaries and outlasting three of the four challengers for the Democratic nomination so far.

However, the nomination is not still hers, and her path in the general election is highly uncertain (although there is plenty of cause for optimism for Clinton supporters) still. There are some alarming facts: turnout in the Democratic primary is far behind turnout in the Republican primary, young voters (a vital component of the Obama coalition) have chosen her rival in overwhelming numbers, and the number of Americans who view her negatively is high. There is also the question of the FBI investigation into her use of a private server at State, a sword of Damocles dangling over her presidential prospects. But none of these are much cause for concern in themselves–primary turnout correlates with a competitive primary more than turnout in November, for example.

In general terms, running for an outgoing president’s de facto third term is a conservative strategy. Said president has already won two elections, and his (the only accurate pronoun, unless Clinton prevails in November) would-be heir can presumably draw upon the support of the party, campaign apparatus and personnel, and herald his administration’s successes while maintaining some ability to keep a bit of distance from any scandals or unpopular actions. This is a strategy that paid off for George H.W. Bush in 1988, and almost did for Al Gore in 2000 (it did in the popular vote, of course). The biggest risk to this strategy is something that upends the status quo: an economic crisis, a terrorist attack or setback abroad that reflects poorly on the administration’s foreign policy or ability to keep the nation safe.

Bernard Sanders
Occupation: U.S. Senator from Vermont (since 2007), former U.S. Representative from Vermont (1991-2007), Mayor of Burlington (1981-1989)
Hometown: Burlington, VT & New York (Brooklyn), NY
Education: Brooklyn College (transferred); B.A., University of Chicago

Senator Bernie Sanders, a left-leaning independent, announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination last spring and flew mostly under the media radar for the first few months. This was a big oversight from the media, to say the least. From the start, Sanders announced that his campaign would not use Super PAC funding and would instead rely on small individual donations. His campaign has focused on income inequality, the corrupting influence of money in politics, and two huge, dramatic policies: free college tuition and single-payer health care. Sanders and his campaign have described their plan as “Medicare for all,” although this is a bit of a misnomer, as I will explain later.

Why was the media’s lack of attention on Sanders an oversight? Because from the start it was clear that his campaign was serious and his support real. He has notched primary victories in the West, Midwest, and Northeast, although Clinton swept the South (unless Oklahoma is in your definition of the South) and outlasted the three other challengers to the front runner to remain the only “upstart” candidate. His support is particularly remarkable among young voters and white liberals, especially those with middle to lower incomes. This explains his dominant performance in rural New England, the Great Plains, and Washington state (the only West Coast state to vote so far).

Despite his surprising performance, Sanders still faces long odds to beat Clinton. He has done very well in smaller states with more rural populations, higher proportions of whites, and lots of liberals, whereas Clinton has dominated in bigger, Southern states with lots of black voters. Clinton’s base is simply a lot bigger, while Sanders has struggled to expand his base beyond young, white liberals. He may win the Wisconsin primaries next week, but the contest moves later in April to New York, a big, diverse state where Clinton presumably has a formidable organizational advantage, given her victories and service as a senator there.

I have some issues with Sanders’s proposed policies, but I’d like to get more into those in their own posts, since they deserve a well-thought out response and critique.

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