There’s been a lot of talk throughout the past year about “electability” in the Democratic primary. More Democrat voters than ever say a candidate’s ability to flip the Oval Office blue is the most important factor in their decision of who to vote for. So this is an important question: What Democrat ticket would be the most electable?
Any conversation about Democratic electability has to start with identifying the mistakes Hillary Clinton made in 2016 and how Democrats can avoid those mistakes this year. There are two main reasons Hillary Clinton lost: lower black turnout, and anger with the establishment that Trump was able to tap into.
CNN exit polls showed black turnout nationalwide decreased from 13 to 12%, and the demographic went from giving Obama 93% of its vote to giving Clinton 89%. Low black turnout arguably cost Democrats a governor mansion and a House special election this year as well. The highly-populated counties of Wayne, MI and Philadelphia, PA, which each have high black populations, gave Obama 73.1% and 85.2% of the vote respectively in 2012, but gave Clinton only 66.8% and 82.5% in 2016. This, combined with a Democratic collapse in rural areas, swung Michigan and Pennsylvania to Donald Trump.
Speaking of that collapse, economic study after economic study have shown the economy of rural areas isn’t growing at nearly the same rate as cities. A 2012 study by the United States Conference of Mayors shows that 3% of the U.S. landmass generates 85% of its GDP. It’s easy to see why rural populations perceive that they’re being left behind by the establishment for the big cities, which is why when Trump came along promising the “forgotten American” would be forgotten no more, he captured the hearts of a lot of people, some of whom voted Democrat just a few years prior.
Meanwhile, many suburbs are trending left and have thrown out their Republican politicians for Democratic ones. Democrats hope the suburbs continue to move left in 2020. This would make it easier to win the presidency if they fail to increase African-American turnout or bring back rural voters. However, electing a fresh face to be your town’s congressperson is a lot different than voting for a longtime establishment figure to be your president. The suburbs may not be as quick to do the latter, as many suburbanites were Republicans just a few years ago, only turning away from the Democrat party because of Trump, and thus still hold some conservative perceptions about Democratic figures from the pre-Trump era. House Democrat’s decision to impeach Trump has probably hardened these perceptions.
So who’s best equipped to tackle these problems facing Democrats? The answer to this question is Pete Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg isn’t a long-time Congressman or former Vice President, he’s the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a Midwestern industrial town. These are the kinds of places where Clinton lost the election, and Democrats need to win back. As mayor, he understands these people and how they think. As a political outsider, people may vote for him just to shake things up in Washington DC, like they did for Trump. Keep in mind many rural areas are still in a dire economic spot, but this time, Trump is part of the establishment and not an outsider. He’s a fresh face, so there’d be less resentment of him than there would be for a long-time establishment Democrat.
His “Medicare-For-All who want it” healthcare policy, or establishing a taxpayer-funded health insurance program at the federal level that people can either opt into, or use private health insurance, is the healthcare policy that will play best in the suburbs. It’s essentially the same healthcare message many Democrats in 2018 ran with on their way to gaining 40 House seats, many of them in suburbs. Let’s compare this to other candidate’s healthcare plans. Joe Biden’s healthcare plan is to stick with Obamacare, which as we saw in 2010 and 2014, when Republicans gained 63 and 13 House seats, doesn’t play well in most areas. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-For-All won’t play well in suburbs. A data study by Alan Abramowitz shows that in competitive House races in 2018, candidates that supported Medicare-For-All did 2.3% worse than a candidate who didn’t would’ve gotten.
There has been one constant Achilles’ hell for Buttigieg: black voters. Most polls don’t show him with more than 5% among the group in the primary. That’s where his VP pick comes into play, who, if we’re just looking at electability, should be California Senator Kamala Harris.
While she had an early exit in the primary, she often polled second place among African-American voters (to Joe Biden). In a general election, she wouldn’t have to worry about Joe Biden. She’d organize and headline get out the vote events in African-American heavy areas, improving Buttigieg’s image among the demographic, all while getting more votes. Another issue for Buttigieg is his lack of big time political experience. Kamala Harris has held statewide/federal office since 2011, getting some much needed political experience on the ticket.
Finally, a Buttigieg/Harris ticket, if elected, would shatter several glass ceilings, among them first President who openly isn’t straight, youngest President ever, first black Vice President, first woman of color anywhere on the ticket, and first female Vice President. This will attribute a good feeling to voting for the ticket among the Democratic base, further increasing turnout.
In conclusion, a Buttigieg/Harris ticket would be the most well-equipped to take advantage of Trump’s tactics and to peel some of his voters away to win a general election. Is it the perfect ticket? No. But would it make Trump sweat? Certainly.