Alice Lin: A prequel to 2020

Monday, December 2, 2019 - 12:13pm

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With Kentucky voting blue in its gubernatorial election and Louisiana following in its footsteps, Republican support seems a little shaky. In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the outcomes of local and state races can provide some sort of prediction to see which party will come out on top. Looking at the kind of candidates who are winning in the South, presidential hopefuls may look to mimic strategies used to secure victories in Louisiana and Kentucky. However, Democrats should be wary of getting complacent in the fight for power since these races have been extremely close. If anything, the outcome of these races are more telling of the anticipated party struggle for dominance, especially in key swing states; Democrats will need to focus their attention on connecting with voters and really selling their candidates.

The win in Louisiana has been pinned on the success of voter turnout from African Americans, but also the ability of Gov. Jon Bel Edwards to appeal to a more moderate audience. Throughout the race for president, some have speculated whether or not a more centrist candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden would be the best contender: someone who appeals to Democrats but also moderate Republicans. On the other hand, more liberal candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have also galvanized large followings with their left-wing policies. Uniting the people is key for any candidate to win in a polarized country. Compared to 2016, where some voters abstained because they disliked both candidates or voted for Donald Trump after Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, candidates today need to focus on showing strong leadership and drawing in voters. Former President Barack Obama also threw in his input, calling on candidates to stay in touch with the voter landscape and stick to fixing issues rather than revolutionizing them.

Throughout the campaign trail, the idea of needing to be the candidate to beat Trump has been a focal point of what the candidates believe appeals to the people. However, being able to beat Trump stems from the ability to convince voters that the candidates can deliver on their promises and improve the quality of life across the nation. Given the frontrunners are consistently Biden, Warren and Sanders — one moderate and two far-left leaning candidates — they need to prove that electing one of them would be significantly better than another four years of Trump for everyone. Despite visiting Kentucky and Louisiana multiple times in the months leading up to the elections in both states, it is evident that Trump’s influence lacks momentum in carrying Republican politicians in their bids for election. Democrats were still able to win despite Trump’s effort to endorse his party’s candidates, hinting at a potential change in the course of Republican power. While the president’s influence is weakening, Democrats need to fight harder than ever to keep their progress in red states going to secure more victories. 

Between the three front runners, it is hard to tell who will come out on top: Biden takes on a more moderate stance reflective of Edwards in Louisiana, Warren has a plan to reform multiple issues to improve the lives of the middle class and Sanders has the recognition and momentum from his 2016 campaign. Biden holds the front seat in most of the polls, but even Obama has yet to endorse his former vice president. The problem with Biden is that he has yet to come out with a strong cause to champion — or maybe that is part of his moderate narrative. It may be beneficial for him to advocate for a specific issue to gain more traction with voters so they have something concrete to associate him with. As for Warren and Sanders, their ambitious plans to completely eliminate student debt and provide Medicare for All sound good on paper and resonate with the younger demographic, but may fall into the predicament of being too revolutionary. As the 2020 election approaches, candidates need to start refining their campaign tactics to appeal to both party followers — for the primaries — and the general public for the general election. To avoid a repeat of 2016, the people need to see the emergence of a strong leader — one that can unite both sides on a platform that resonates with the people.

Alice Lin can be reached at alicelin@umich.edu.