Let’s talk about 2016! (Democratic primary)

I know, I know, the 2014 candidates are still in full swing, and then the 2015 municipal campaign (including a very exciting open Mayor’s race) will follow. But the 2016 election will soon be all-consuming in the world of politics, and I think a little crash-course in the candidates would be worthwhile, so one could simply jump right in the middle of the it all when the campaign inevitably becomes a tad less ambiguous.

The 2016 frontrunners begin and end with Hillary Clinton. Honestly, I am not really quite sure how I should describe her title anymore, given that she has had so many important ones. Clinton served as the First Lady of Arkansas from both 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, while her husband Bill Clinton served as Governor. She then followed him to the White House, and served as First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. 17 days before the end of her husband’s Presidency, she began serving as a member of the US Senate, a position she held until 2009. At that point, she became the Secretary of State for four years, all of President Obama’s first term. Oh yeah, and she ran for President in 2008, coming astoundingly close to besting Obama in the Democratic primary that year. In fact, Clinton garnered more than 250,000 more votes than Obama.

Clinton has not officially announced anything pertaining to her Presidential ambitions, though she has said that she will likely make a decision by the end of the year. That being said, most insider-sources have agreed that she will run. A well-organized PAC, “Ready for Hillary,” has already been created, laying the groundwork for the expected run. However, the PAC is not merely run by overzealous supporters. Some of the Clinton family’s biggest political supporters, including James Carville and Harold Ickes, have signed on at the ground-level of this organization. George Soros, arguably the most prolific Democratic benefactor, has also donated heavily to the group. Closer to home, Amber and Steve Mostyn, possibly the biggest Democratic donors in Texas, have also underwritten the group. But the enthusiasm is not merely confined to activists and donors. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has preemptively endorsed Clinton for 2016, as has former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). Tauscher is also noteworthy because she was one of Clinton’s top deputies in the State Department, serving as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, as well as the Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense.

I am confident that Clinton will run inherently because of the establishment support that has already surrounded her. As many will recall from last autumn, as the “Will Wendy Davis run for Governor?” question rung louder and louder, I was sold on her candidacy the instant that Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa began openly advocating for it. Politicians such as McCaskill would not preemptively endorse if there was actually a chance Clinton would not run. Politics does not work on wishful thinking like that.

Accordingly, it just makes for fatuous conversation at this point to debate whether or not Clinton will run. She’s in, and the polls show her squarely in the lead. For the Democratic primary in particular, polling shows Clinton simply eviscerating the competition. It’s not even a contest, more like the United States vs. Grenada. But, to be fair, none of the other candidates have gotten off the ground yet, or even really announced for that matter.

Chief among the other opponents (pretenders to the throne?) is Joe Biden, the Vice-President since 2009 and previously a six term Senator. Biden, who ran for President but performed disappointingly in 2008, still wants to be President. For his part, though, Biden has been significantly less successful in attracting donors and institutional support. Biden’s ace-in-the-hole, however, is that he has the ear of President Obama, who for his part praised Biden recently, though stopped far short of a full-blown endorsement.

A third likely candidate is Martin O’Malley, the Governor of Maryland. An outspoken liberal, he recently made headlines by criticizing the President for being too heartless on the unaccompanied minors at the border issue. Many will remember that O’Malley was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Johnson-Richards-Rayburn dinner in Houston, which I attended.

A fourth possible candidate is Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York. Cuomo is a social liberal but its quite centrist/pragmatic on fiscal affairs. This has caused him to draw the ire of the left, though Cuomo has unequivocally stated that he would not run against Clinton. Thus, I consider him an unlikely candidate.

So who would run against Clinton? Besides Biden, mostly ideologues on the left (such as O’Malley) or in the center.

Among the liberals would be Howard Dean, the former Governor of Vermont and Chairman of the DNC. The name may strike some as a shock, but Dean has openly flirted with the idea. “Never say never,” he recently said of the idea.

A far more skillful candidate than Dean that would appeal to the same base, however, is Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts. Warren has plainly said that she won’t run, but plenty of liberal figures have rallied to her side nonetheless. The New Republic called her “Clinton’s worst nightmare.” The New York Post even ran a barnbusting story about Obama secretly backing Warren over Clinton; it’s legitimacy is dubious at best. Still, this didn’t stop slightly-more reputable sources such as Fox News from repeating the allegations.

Far more likely, however, is a challenge from a pseudo-socialist such as Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont. Sanders, who isn’t even technically a Democrat but an “Independent Socialist” who merely caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, would be quite the longshot to win (primary or general) but could have the effect of pulling the party to the left. The New Republic and The Nation, respectively, make that point quite well. Sanders, for his part, told Salon that he was truly interested in running for President but stopped short of any particulars.

The moderates’ best messenger, I’ve always thought, is Brian Schweitzer, the former Governor of Montana. Schweitzer is a strange mix of politician. As Ezra Klein noted (back when he was still at the Post) at the start of this year, he is the Democratic anti-Obama, castigating the President at every turn. However, many of his criticism are not really from the right/center. MSNBC fills in some of the details: while he is broadly pro-gas and pro-gun, he has libertarian viewpoints on programs such as the NSA and the Patriot Act. Furthermore, he is not shy about how much he hates Obamacare, but not for the reasons you think. Much like myself, he believes in a single-payer system. However, Time Magazine notes that Schweitzer may have sunk his chances by making some off-color comments recently. I’d say he sunk his chances when he dared to criticize Obama, President of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the 50 States and Protector of the Realm (this is a Game of Thrones joke).

Among more-usual moderates, Joe Manchin‘s –a Senator from West Virginia– name pops up. The National Journal has the full story on that, noting that a spokesperson simply told a hometown paper that “Senator Manchin is leaving all his options open for 2016, and will continue to look for the best way to bring common sense to Washington.” Manchin opposes both Obamcare and single-payer, and he famously put a bullet through a printed copy of Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal in a campaign video.

Last, but certainly not least, is Jim Webb, a former Senator from Virginia. Politico first reported that one. When asked point-blank on if he wished to run in 2016, he retorted with a laconic “I’m not going to say one way or another.” Webb, more than being a garden variety moderate, is a centre-left liberal who is a super-hawk on the deficit and the national debt.

Personally, I will probably support Clinton, but I truly wish for a vivid and competitive primary fight to ensue. This is not a knock on Clinton, merely a point that I do not think anyone should have a free pass. Furthermore, I think it actually strengthens candidates if they go through a primary fight, because it exposes their weaknesses and allows them to improve on their weaknesses. Take State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) as an example. Many will recall that when his primary opponent, Damian LaCroix, first announced his candidacy, I applauded the contested primary. And yet, I (as well as the entire Texpatriate Editorial Board) strongly supported Whitmire in his re-election. Similarly, I think that Clinton could only become a better candidate by facing opposition from both her left and her right.

Among the other candidates, the only one I am truly enamored with is Schweitzer. Yes, he has a bit of an unpredictable mouth on him, but I admire a politician who says what he thinks, even if I disagree or am offended by something that is said once every blue moon. I consider it far superior to a guarded robot who never says anything of consequence.

Terrible, terrible poll

The Texas Tribune has released its newest poll, and the results continue to paint a bleak picture for the campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. The poll has her down 12 points to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. The poll also examined Statewide races up and down the ticket and found that Democrats were doing miserably bad in all of them. Most all of these polls included Libertarian and Green candidates, for what it is worth. Additionally, undecideds boasted pretty good showings in all of these races, and the number only got bigger the further down the ballot one traveled.

As many will remember, the Tribune commissioned an extensive poll in February that was not worth the non-existent paper that is was not printed upon. Among the many terrible predictions it made was that Kesha Rogers and Debra Medina led the plurality in their respective primaries. Rogers barely squeaked into a runoff and Medina came in a distant last place in a race where one candidate (Hegar) won outright. I went after the Tribune with a wrench in the Daily Texan a couple days after the preliminary primary completely discredited their polling, noting that we should not waste our breath analyzing something so unreliable anymore.  As my friend Charles Kuffner noted yesterday, the Tribune polls should be “in time-out,” meaning that we have to very look at what they have to say quite critically.

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The best DNC speeches

President Obama’s acceptance speech was delivered to a tired yet electrified crowd at the convention, but to a fresh TV audience. Many of the delegates were expecting either a “red meat speech” to the base or another of the classic Obama silver-tongued oration. If one had such hopes, they would have been thoroughly disappointed. However, many who had simply tuned into Obama’s speech at primetime thought he had done a swell job of communicating his message to the American people. Still, I believe it would be safe to say he did not deliver the greatest remarks of the evening, so I have prepared my list of the top ten speeches.

10. Mayor Julian Castro

The keynote speaker both described his inspirational journey of poverty to politics and outlined clear and concise reasons to re-elect President Obama. As someone who truly lived American Dream, Mayor Castro and his twin brother State Representative (and soon Congressman) Joaquin Castro studied hard to receive scholarships to Stanford University and Harvard Law School. Castro, only 37, provided a key roadmap of what the future of Texas politics will look like. Perhaps the reason I found his speech so inspiring if because as a Texan, it inspired me that Mayor Castro will most likely be my state’s next Governor.

9. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden

Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Biden, delivered an inspirational speech to nominate his father for another term as Vice President. Beau Biden discussed the many hardships his father has had to bear, including most notably losing his first wife, Beau’s mother, and one of his children in an accident with a drunk driver just months before Joe Biden took his senate seat. Beau Biden further outlined the many great accomplishment his father has done since taking office.

8. Mayor Cory Booker

Mayor Booker of Newark, New Jersey delivered a red-meat speech to the blue-meat crowd. As the presenter of this year’s platform, the first to endorse Marriage Equality, he highlighted the themes of inclusion, justice, and equality within the platform. It also included key provisions to help veterans return home and balancing the budget without devastating working people. He stated that the wealthy being asked to pay higher taxes “isn’t class warfare—it’s patriotism”.

7. Congressman John Lewis

John Lewis, the former Civil Rights icon and leader of the SNCC, reminisced of his time fighting for basic Civil Rights and being beaten to a pulp for attempting to wait in a white waiting room. Lewis then compared disenfranchisement by Southern governments in the 1960s to the Voter ID acts of today. Lewis then tearfully stated that “we will not go back”, and then contrasted the statement for Obama’s theme of “forward”. Congressman Lewis was given a long applause and ovation by the convention crowd

6. First Lady Michelle Obama

The First Lady’s speech was simply beautiful. Her ability to cast the President as a kind, emotional, real figure in contrast to his aloofness was unbelievably successful. The First Lady was able to paint a truly human side to her husband. This was a complete 180 from the robot commonly associated with Governor Mitt Romney.

5. Governor Deval Patrick

I know I mentioned Governor Patrick before, but he just gave a simply fantastic speech. His comments about Democrats growing a spine put chills in mine. Also, after the farce of the soft homophobes at the 2004 DNC in Boston, I was really glad to see someone redeem the errors of the past.

4. Governor Brian Schweitzer

Governor Schweitzer of Montana spoke to the crowd in a folksy eloquence that I only saw matched by President Clinton. Governor Schweitzer highlighted the importance of not raising taxes on the poor, as he alleged Governor Romney did while in office. He also highlighted the success of Montana to successfully expand and strengthen its education system. Schweitzer has led the conservative state to certain liberal ideals, including the legalization of medicinal cannabis and suing the Federal Government over the Citizens United ruling.

3. Senator John Kerry

After Senator Kerry’s speech, I looked at the people around me and proclaimed, “Who was that guy who looked and sounded like John Kerry and where that man was being detained in 2004?” Senator Kerry was cool, relaxed, cracking jokes, and quite personable during his speech, mostly the opposite of his presidential candidate persona. Additionally, Senator Kerry was able to connect with the base without alienating the middle. Kerry highlighted the common critique of Romney’s inability to hold a steady position on many issues, mentioning the former attack against him of being “for it before he was against it”.

2. President Bill Clinton

President Clinton amazed me, with his flagship ability to take extremely complex, mundane political issues and simplify them with his folksy wits into an equation that is comprehensible for all Americans. President Clinton discussed his abilities to balance the budget, criticized Republican attacks on Obama’s record vis-à-vis welfare reform, and complemented his stewardship of the economy. Clinton stated that the mess that Obama inherited was far worse than the one he inherited, and that there would have been also an anemic recovery if he were the President. Finally, Clinton stated the need to curb defense spending and raise taxes on the wealthy, stating that was the way the budget was balanced in his day, or as he called it, “simple arithmetic”.

1. Governor Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm, the former Governor of Michigan, gave a rousing speech on President Obama’s saving of the auto industry. She heavily criticized Governor Romney’s statement of “Let Detroit go bankrupt”, and lauded the President’s “guts” in helping Detroit. Towards the end of the speech, she began touting the numbers of jobs saved by the auto loans, throwing her arms and at times jumping up and down, yelling and powering through the heavy applause. But perhaps the greatest line of Governor Granholm’s speech, and perhaps even the greatest line of the convention, was that “In Mitt Romney’s world, the cars get the elevators, and the workers get the shaft”, a reference to Romney’s infamous car elevator.