Democratic stars scrap for a chance to lead us out of the darkness

It wasn’t exactly the level of TV drama that draws droves of people to tune  in like “The Bachelorette,” “Survivor,” or the “Dallas” era of “Who shot J.R. Ewing?” Nonetheless, the verbal battles provided by the Democratic candidates for president Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit were informative, entertaining and definitely “must-see TV” for voters.

Nobody could blame you if you had never heard of half this field of 20 wannabes before this week. But, by now, you know where most of them stand on critical issues like health care, climate change, military conflicts in the Middle East, foreign policy, the Iran Nuclear Deal, raising the minimum wage, gender pay equity, the criminal justice reform, free college tuition, automation and job security, immigration, raising taxes, and oh yes, the findings in the Mueller report.

All of that is well and good, but meaningful change––the kind that affects the lives of 372 million Americans––is unlikely to come unless one of these candidates is capable of beating the Idiot-in-Chief in November 2020. Who has the best chance?

The front-runner to date has been former Vice President Joe Biden, but now Uncle Joe has a target on his back.

Leading up to the Democratic debates, he has been at the top ofthe polls. As of Tuesday, July 30, he held the lead with 33 percent in both the Emerson and Politico/Morning Consult polls, and 34 percent in The Hill/HarrisX poll, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) trailing several points behind at second place. On Wednesday, in the Economist/YouGov poll, Biden’s status had dropped to 26 percent, but he was still leading the pack.

With 19 hungry candidates eager to chip away at his lead, Biden had the most to lose trying to defend his position and to prove he could hold his own. Some pundits say he succeeded, but others saw a few stumbles.

Before he took the stage Wednesday, he told the media he was “not going to be polite this time.” He was referring to the beating he took in the last debate against Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Ca.) attacks on his opposition to federally mandated busing––a distant part of his record from more than 40 years ago that he was eager to clarify. He wasn’t opposed to segregation and busing––just the federal intervention.

Going into Wednesday night’s debate, pundits were salivating over the possibility that Harris, the former attorney general of California, might have her claws out for him again. Before the opening remarks, he shook her hand and was overheard to say, “Go easy on me, kid.” She didn’t, but this time, Uncle Joe was ready with a lot of the right answers. Unfortunately, he might not have been as well prepared for all the other young guns coming at him onstage.

Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey and Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro blasted him about “The Biden Crime Bill” and “flip-flopping’ on justice reform. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio jumped into the fray to ask what the Department of Justice did in the case of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in 2014.

At that point, Harris decided to re-open her criticism of Biden for his stance on busing, then brought the conversation back to Garner and the DOJ’s recommendation that charges should have been filed against the officer. Biden countered with questions about Harris’ own record as a prosecutor in California.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii sensed raw meat and pounced on Harris, saying she had jailed 1,500 people for marijuana violations, then laughed when asked if she had ever smoked weed herself.

Gabbard also accused Harris of blocking evidence that might have kept an innocent man off death row, and said she kept people in prison past their sentences to provide cheap labor for the state. It was a restrained catfight between the veteran of two tours in the Middle East and the former state attorney general.

A little while later in the evening, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), took Biden to task for a 1981 op-ed he wrote about tax credits for child care, and quoted a line suggesting it would cause “the deterioration of the family.”

Basically, everyone wants a piece of Uncle Joe as they try to clamber to the top. And clearly, it had the former Vice President rattled, as he tripped over how many years Donald Trump can still serve.

“Four more years is an aberration. Eight more years will change America in a fundamental way,” he said. And then, just as several other debaters had included their campaign websites in their closing remarks, Biden implored viewers to go to “Joe 30330.” The problem with that is it, while he meant for that to be a text message instruction, some understood it to be a URL, which a quick-as-lightning prankster snagged immediately. The technical snafu capped what was clearly not the Vice President’s finest hour.

After the debate, CNN commentator David Axelrod, said the good news is that maybe this was the best he could do––better than the previous debate––and the bad news is maybe this was the best he could do.

Van Jones, another CNN commentator, contrasted the two nights of debates with the observation that the Tuesday night debates allowed the star candidates, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.), to shine. On the second night, the expected stars, Biden and Harris, seemed to fade while some of the comers stepped into the limelight, he said.

So what’s next? The field of candidates is going to narrow to about half the number, and those who survive the cut will move on to debate at Texas Southern University in Houston in mid-September.

How will they qualify? There are two thresholds to cross: raising money and making a showing in the polls. Candidates have to achieve at least a 2 percent rating in four national polls approved by the Democratic National Convention. They must have amassed at least 130,000 unique donors (and that means as little as $1), with 400 unique donors coming from each of 20 or more states.

As of July 31, only seven had met all the requirements: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Booker, as well as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

Castro and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, have met the donor requirements, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D- MN) has met the polling requirements. Those who have yet to meet either include: Gillibrand; Gabbard; De Blasio; former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam; Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton; and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. Also, former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak; billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (who is self-funded); author and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson; former Maryland Congressman John Delaney; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Senator Michael Bennet, also of Colorado.

Those who cannot meet the requirements by August 28 are likely to be known hereafter as “the also-ran” gang, although they may still be able to muster the poll numbers and donors in time for the October debates.

There’s still a lot of time left for stars to rise and others to fall before we know how things will sort out and who will go head-to-head in even dirtier debate battles with the world’s worst bully. The bottom line is, it has to be someone smart and tough.

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