Dems' Diversity Push May Block White Males in 2020

Dems' Diversity Push May Block White Males in 2020
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Dems' Diversity Push May Block White Males in 2020
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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In the age of identity politics and increasing demands for diversity, especially on the left side of the political spectrum, can the Democrats nominate a male Caucasian for president in 2020? In a recent CNN poll of registered Democrats, the top three choices were all white men: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke. If the 2018 midterms are a guide to Democratic voter sentiment, however, this may not cut it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it bluntly in her primary campaign slogan against former Rep. Joe Crowley. “It’s time,” she said, “for one of us.”

“It’s hard to imagine the Democrats would end up with a straight white male,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Report. “Expect some type of diversity on the ticket,” he added. “Democrats will want a contrast to the Republicans.”

Downplaying the importance of identity is Bill Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “A candidate won’t be nominated just because they are a minority or a woman,” he said. “It might be a plus factor. But Democrats are united in loathing Donald Trump and will be pragmatic.”

House Democrats just installed the most diverse group of members in history, a milestone driven by candidate selection by the liberal grassroots.  In 2018, a record number of women beat men in Democratic primaries. For the first time ever in the general election, white men were a minority in the Democratic candidate pool running for office. “The midterms did seem to indicate that Democrats like voting for women and people of color,” said Kondik.

There’s a growing chorus that women are the backbone of the Democratic Party and that their support of candidates is what propelled the party to reclaim the House. One of the potential 2020 presidential candidates pushing this narrative is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand,  who tweeted on the first day of the new Congress: 

Exit poll data from 2016 shows that this phenomenon has been building. Fifty-eight percent of Democratic primary voters were women that year – and they supported Hillary Clinton by 21 points over Bernie Sanders, accounting for her entire margin over the Vermont senator.

Looking ahead to the next election, a June Wall Street Journal poll showed that nearly 24 percent of registered Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about a candidate based on gender. For the party to win the White House in 2020, it will need to have as high a turnout of women as occurred in 2018, and having a woman on the ticket seems likely to energize the base and increase turnout.

Democrats eyeing the 2020 race are strategizing on how to stitch back together the Obama-era coalition, with special emphasis on galvanizing African-American voters once again. In 2016 Hillary Clinton received 88 percent of the black vote whereas Obama got 93 percent -- with a higher overall turnout. Some analysts believe she’d have won battleground states such as Michigan if she had better results with black voters.

In the Democratic primaries, carrying the African-American vote is especially important in Southern states such as South Carolina and Mississippi where the black vote is often higher than 50 percent. “Black women are a pivotal group to get on your side and it’s hard to be successful in a Democratic primary without them,” said Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of the Collective PAC and national African-American vote director for Obama in 2012. She added, “It will be problematic for the party if there’s not a person of color on the ticket when there are extremely qualified people running who could be president or vice president.”  So far, two African-American senators, Kamala Harris of California and New Jersey’s Cory Booker, are eyeing the race, and James believes it’s possible that former Attorney General Eric Holder may also jump in.

As Democrats becomes more focused on race and gender, it’s unclear if that will be a required litmus test or an additive quality. But for party activists such as James, it’s not an option:  “Diversity on the Democratic ticket is a necessity,” she said.

Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.

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