Democratic voters want the 2020 field to shrink, not grow
Two more Democrats are considering joining the 2020 presidential primary, despite voters sending signals for months that they are largely happy with their choices and would like the field of candidates vying to take on President Donald Trump to shrink, not grow.
Both former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are laying the groundwork for late entries into the primary. Their potential campaigns are seen as a repudiation of the current Democratic field, with Bloomberg considering a run because he does not believe any of the current candidates are positioned to defeat Trump.
But what Bloomberg and Patrick may find if they actually hit the campaign trail, however, is that after four nationally televised debates and countless forums, rallies and town hall events with other candidates, there is little indication voters want more choices.
Of those who are already in the race, no candidate has been able to break out of the crowded field, which may be a function of it remaining so large this late in the nomination process.
Matt Spellman, a 49-year-old Democrat from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, didn’t mince words when he was asked earlier this year about how the size of the field impacts his vote.
“It’s too big,” Spellman said in September. “It really is. I’m ready (for people to drop out). It’s getting to be too overwhelming.”
His thoughts were echoed by Lee Clancey, a former mayor of Cedar Rapids, who thought back in September that there were too many candidates in the race.
“We are getting to a point where we need to start winnowing the field,” Clancey said. “I would like to see people who have not broken out of the pack take a back seat.”
The size of the 2020 field revolves largely around former Vice President Joe Biden and how potential rivals perceive his chances.
His entry into the race did little to scare other Democratic hopefuls from joining the campaign. And his performance over the last seven months has done little to persuade candidates to drop out. But he remains resilient and steady — far from the collapse that some nervous Democratic donors and others have quietly worried about.
“Ironically, the big field has helped keep Biden in the game,” a senior Democratic official said, noting the long list of candidates whose central strategy is painting themselves as an alternative to Biden.
If Bloomberg and Patrick move ahead with campaigns, they face several urgent questions, including: How will their messages be any different? Can they qualify for debates? How can they do what several other well-respected senators and governors have been unable to do?
“They are in for a rude awakening for how hard this is,” a senior adviser to a Democratic presidential candidate told CNN. “The idea that you can swoop in at this late stage and be greeted with acclamation and broad support doesn’t meet with the reality that any of us have seen.”
Tameika Isaac Devine, a councilwoman in Columbia, South Carolina, told CNN on Tuesday that the large field is holding people back from picking one candidate.
“I know some folks who are really not committing to anybody because they feel like there are so many candidates,” Devine said.
But she added that she also talks to constituents who say that “they don’t feel like any of the current candidates speak to them.” That leads her to believe “someone like Gov. Patrick who is a little more moderate … might appeal to some of those people.”
The sentiment that the field is too large cuts across the party’s ideological spectrum.
At a recent Andrew Yang rally, multiple attendees said they were worried that the large size of the field was hurting those candidates currently near the top.
“I would like to see it get smaller,” said Courtney Cox, a 27-year-old who is considering a host of the top candidates. “My initial reaction was that everyone mocked the Republicans, who had such a big field in 2016. … I think it is a little overwhelming.”
These sentiments are backed up by polling.
A Monmouth University poll released this month found that 74% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters are happy with the field as it is now. Only 16% said they would like to see other candidates get into the race.
Voters who identify as moderate or conservative — the kind of people Bloomberg and Patrick would expect to target –were less satisfied with the field, but only 22% said they would like to see other candidates get into the race.
And in Iowa, the state that will deliver the first verdict in the 2020 race, a June poll found that nearly 3 in 4 Democrats who plan to caucus in February believe either several (47%) or most (27%) of the Democratic candidates should end their campaigns.
Not all Democrats are ready for the field to shrink, though. Some, especially those in early states who welcome the constant visits, are happy to have more people in the race, even if they aren’t compelled by Bloomberg or Patrick.
“I think the field is strong, includes powerful people with good ideas and good teams,” Michael S. Lewis, a New Hampshire voter who is considering a host of the top candidates, said on Tuesday.
Lewis added: “I don’t find their candidacies compelling at this point, but I don’t have any objection to their efforts to try to convince me and others that they have good ideas and a worthy case for the presidency.”
And then there are voters who care solely about one thing: nominating someone who can beat Trump.
“I would support someone’s toenail if they can win,” said Mary Burke, a 55-year old nurse from Lisbon, Iowa. “Whoever it is, OK!”