The level of enthusiasm related to Democratic Party voters in November’s mid-term elections will pale in comparison to the consternation awaiting them as soon as the polls close and the votes have been tallied. These voters will not have the luxury of spending much time basking in the joy of a victory to take control of the U.S. Senate and/or the U.S. House of Representatives from the Republicans. These voters will also not have the luxury of wallowing in sorrow or pontificating on how or why the party may have fallen short in its efforts.
Neither approach would be prudent because the fight to be selected as the nominee to represent the Democratic Party in the general election of 2020 will vastly trump all other political considerations.
The significance of this year’s mid-term elections cannot be overstated. Issues related to Congressional oversight, future Supreme Court nominations, regulatory agency practices, and interference in elections by foreign state actors, among other things, are paramount. Notwithstanding, issues related to the election of the next President of the United States are even more pronounced. And who the most reliable voting bloc of Democratic Party voters decides to initially support in the primaries will be one of the most heavily scrutinized decisions in recent campaign memory.
Exacerbating the Democratic Party’s nomination process in selecting the strongest general election candidate is the anticipated reality that primary voters will be faced with a slew of first-tier candidates with myriad backgrounds and experiences vying for the nomination. There is ample speculation that several quality candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I. Vt.), Governor Andrew Cuomo (D. N.Y.) and other high-profile national and state office holders, are contemplating entering the fray.
For a substantial number of African-Americans, what awaits them early in the process can be distilled to the following: Do I initially support Senator Kamala Harris (D. Calif.) or do I initially support Senator Corey Booker (D. N.J.)? These two first-tier senators represent approximately five million African-American constituents. Thus, an early decision by eligible African American voters to support one of these candidates is not an academic exercise. This decision will require an exacting process of self-introspection, illuminated to a very large degree by the intersection of race and gender.
At this point in America’s history, the quality and depth of minority candidates across the political spectrum is a testament to the nation’s steady progress. Yet, hallmarks of a good situation do not necessarily mean that this situation is one that will be eagerly embraced by primary voters when a national political calendar requires them to essentially make an accelerated decision on which candidate to support early in critical primaries across the nation. This conundrum is more pronounced when primary voters may very well have a well-qualified African-American woman and an equally qualified African American man vying for the ultimate political prize, the presidency. Thus, the upcoming primary process will likely be a slugfest, requiring prospective soul-searching from many voters; none, however, more than African American women, who are unquestionably the backbone of the Democratic Party. This large subset of voters will have an enormously burdensome role in the selection process, particularly in areas where there is a large concentration of African-Americans voters.
After the election of former President Barack Obama, the stakes are profoundly real because women voters are acutely aware that it is indeed possible for a minority candidate to be elected as president and that is not unreasonable for a woman candidate to receive millions of votes more than her male opponent. This reality brings into sharp focus several issues related to healthcare, immigration, safety net programs, policing practices, drug policies, taxes, consumer protections, housing, and other issues that disproportionately affect communities of color that may have received minimal attention from other candidates.
For many African American women primary voters who have to decide to back either Senator Booker or Senator Harris, their decision will not be unlike the consternation experienced by a sizable portion of them when they were faced with a decision of having to ultimately decide between the two remaining candidates during the brutal Democratic Party primary process in 2008 involving then Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Over a decade later, the contemplation of which candidate to support much earlier in the primary process is both paramount and slightly different because of the reality that Senators Booker and Harris are both African American. Like then candidate Obama, these two senators are relatively new players on the national scene. Both senators have been elected to statewide office in their respective states of California and New Jersey, and both were simultaneously sworn into Congress, each now serving on the prestigious Senate Judiciary Committee. Similarly, both senators are not shy about aggressively questioning witnesses who appear before the committee, demonstrating an ability to extemporaneously discuss myriad topics, likely owing to their astute legal acumen. Yet, despite these admirable qualities and readily identifiable positive character traits, race and gender still predominate their candidacies for the nomination in America.
One of the more interesting aspects to the “Booker-Harris” dilemma for African American women primary voters is how Senator Booker and Senator Harris might decide to highlight or minimize their immutable salient characteristics. Most interesting, due to their reliability and collective strength in numbers, these voters will have to decide early on which candidate best aligns with their vision for the party, and ultimately the nation. Their collective numbers are such that any candidate securing early majority support from them will likely be in the strongest position of all the candidates to effectively set the terms in narrowing the field of candidates. Once this earlier narrowing commences, its impact will reverberate with other candidates, affecting fundraising, voter registration, voter education, voter training, and voter outreach, among other things. Thus, it is not unreasonable to posit that behind-the-scene maneuvering has already commenced.
There are sure to be germane questions and considerations that will be elided over by the media, punditry, voters, and commentators related to these two candidates. This will also occur in an environment where both candidates hold reasonable positions on issues that fall squarely within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, paramount questions related to each candidate’s family (e.g., her spouse and family and seemingly his lack of either) will likely be broached, searching for clues to make informed decision on myriad issues. Other questions these voters will ponder early relate to his purported coziness with Wall Street relative to Main Street; her aggressive stance against abusive policing practices; their identification with societal movements pertaining to sexual misconduct; their identification with complex humanitarian immigration issues; and a host of other significant issues requiring thoughtfulness, temperament, and objectivity from an engaged president.
Some opine that the senators may be stealthily jockeying for the vice-presidential spot on a ticket that might be headed by former Vice President Biden, Senator Warren, or Senator Sanders.
However, both California and New Jersey are reliable blue. Thus, it is unlikely that this consideration is one of the principal concerns for either of them or that either is attempting to increase their national profile for a possible candidacy in 2024. This is more likely about them trying to properly calibrate their presidential ambitions by taking full advantage of that rare political situation where striking the proverbial political iron while it is hot, and not having the glowing political flame extinguished before it is too late.
Some might also opine about this conundrum facing these Democratic primary voters dismissively as rank “identity politics.” One the other hand, the reality presented to African American women voters is better characterized as nothing more than the secondary iteration of accustomed “identity politics” that has always been engaged in throughout the nation, and at all jurisdictional levels. Thus, this more modern Identity Politics 2.0 version is welcome by informed voters who fully embrace the complexities inherently associated with race and gender issues.
In the end, time will tell us a great deal about how the intersection of race and gender played out in a crowded field of quality candidates, two of whom are eminently qualified minority candidates worthy of carrying the torch that former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carried as the two most recent candidates for President of the United States.
Undergirding the above are complex decisions by progressive women (and men) voters to finally vitiate the one remaining political barrier that still exists in American politics. Toward this end, African American women primary voters will have an enormous – albeit well-earned – role in deciding which candidate to initially support.
On a related note, one of the more interesting aspects to the political jockeying related to the endorsing of candidates may be gleaned from that of former President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Who among the anticipated large field of candidates will each endorse, and how soon? How might their respective race and gender inform their initial decision?
For sure, these are interesting times in America’s political life, and real lives are dependent on the outcome.