On Thursday, Beto O’Rourke officially entered the Democratic presidential primary race, joining about a dozen other candidates seeking the party’s nomination. While Joe Biden (who hasn’t actually announced his candidacy yet) and Bernie Sanders still lead in the polls, it would be hasty to declare a clear front-runner at this stage. After all, around this time in the last presidential election cycle, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were the leading Republican primary candidates in the polls, and look how that turned out.
The 2016 Democratic Primary was defined primarily by the competition between Hillary Clinton, representing establishment Democratic politics and Bernie Sanders, who championed a (relatively) more radical left-wing alternative. This, unfortunately, meant that the primaries lacked the same wacky cast of secondary characters that the 2016 Republican Primaries had, with the exception of the Metric Maniac himself Lincoln Chafee. However, in contrast, the 2020 Democratic Primary is currently shaping up to be full of potential Chafees.
Because of the crowded nature of the primary race, long-shot Democratic presidential nominees are trying to stand out with radical policies and platforms centered on specific issues. For example, the current Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, has focused his campaign almost entirely around combating climate change, which, given the gravity of the issue, makes sense but also comes across as an indirect bid for Secretary of Energy.
Another example can be found in the case of Julian Castro, the former Obama Administration Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has found a position that he can actually run to Bernie’s left on: reparations for slavery. Castro has voiced his support for reparations and used the issue to criticize Sanders. We should note that Democratic hopefuls Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have also expressed support for reparations. That said, we should be skeptical of whether these candidates will support reparations once the primary is over and they all pivot right in the general election.
Finally, the most interesting long-shot candidate in the primary race is Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and political outsider who secured a place in the first Democratic primary debate by gaining the support of over 65,000 individual donors. Yang’s signature policy is a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI), “Freedom dividend” of $1,000 per month for every adult American. Regardless of how Yang himself actually ends up faring in the primary, it will be interesting to see UBI discussed on a national platform, especially since Bernie Sanders has expressed positive sentiments about a universal basic income. Until June, we can only wait and hope that they give at least an hour to debating the metric system.