In an exclusive interview, former DNC Chief Executive Amy Dacey explains the state of the Democratic Party, ahead of tonight's first debate.
What issues are most important to Democratic Voters?
There is evidence that issue priorities for individuals in both political parties center around the economy, healthcare, and security especially when it comes acts of terrorism, and of course job creation. The difference is how Democratic and Republican supporters view solutions to these concerns. For Democrats these are also the issues that are dominating the conversation in the primaries, with some issues that are also a priority like immigration or for younger generations climate change. As we look to a large field of Democratic candidates in the primary, conversations around how to tackle some of the major issues of concern, such as immigration and healthcare will revolve around specific policy points from the candidates and cannot simply be a repudiation of President Trump and his administration.
What are the dividing lines in the current Democratic Primary?
The Democratic Party has always been inclusive and has many views and constituencies which I have always seen as an asset to the party. There are differences on particular policy solutions within the party’s infrastructure, but the commonality of shared values I would argue ensures no “dividing lines”. Democrats values support the notion that anyone, from any walk of life should have an equal shot at the American Dream. In its own words “the Democratic Party represents a future together for all Americans”. The challenge in primary campaigns are to show you are the better candidate where they are not always a large gap in your views on key policy issues with your competitors. The candidates will need to show what makes then stand out and who is the best nominee in a field where there is much in common.
Will the Democratic Debates have a large impact on setting the field of candidates?
Campaigns are just a conversation between candidates and voters. Debates are one means of communication, they help to increase name identification, add clarity on candidate’s issue positions and in some ways show differences as the candidates appear on stage together. The challenges with the primary debates are with 10 candidates and 5 moderators it will be challenging for candidates to share what they stand for in limited time. With no opening remarks they cannot shape their story and priorities before the questions are asked. Each will be able to have a closing statement but closing statements are often used to bolster, clarify and or reflect on their performance during the debate itself.
What are the best areas for Democrats to win votes from Donald Trump and Republicans?
The playing field of the 2020 election has some similarities to 2016 and some changes. There are still key states a candidate must win in order to reach the goal of 270 electoral votes. Making key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan which Trump won in 2016 again major states to win in 2020, but with Democrats winning governors’ races in Wisconsin and Michigan the dynamic in those states might be changing to favor a Democrat. By bolstering the democrat’s coalition and welcoming back the millions of Obama voters that voted for Trump in 2016 there is a path to win. But one should never underestimate the challenge of defeating an incumbent President when the economy is good or there is a foreign threat to the country.
What effect will the record number of candidates have on the primary process?
There have been large primary fields for both Republicans and Democrats in the past. Part of that process leads to a robust engagement early on with voters and the ability to organize in many communities. The challenge for either party is coming together collectively after the primary process and the selection of the nominee. For the Democrats there will be several recognizable surrogates who will be able to use their voices to help the nominee show a contrast with President Trump as he runs for re-election. Their engagement and support will be key as they encourage their primary supporters of the importance of their participation and vote in the general election for the party’s nominee. The question for Democrats is can they deliver their message of what they stand for collectively and hold Trump accountable if the primary process is long, even all the way to the convention?
What do Democratic voters want most from their candidate in 2020?
The candidate that will stand out will be authentic. Voters want authentic leaders and to believe what the candidates say. They need leaders to feel connected to the voter’s cares and concerns. In 2016 and even before there was an anger, anxiety and angst in this country and candidates who acknowledge those feelings, show they have solutions to their concerns and will alleviate those tensions will connect with voters.
Following the election interference in the 2016 election, is the Democratic Party ready for another wave of interference in 2020?
Cyber and other threats of interference are the new reality in our elections and must always be taken seriously. Everyone involved in our elections, both parties, candidates, the intelligence community and administrators must all work together to protect against, identify and react to these threats. This is a global issue as we have seen so many examples around the world.
About the author
Amy Dacey is the former Chief Executive Officer of the DNC. She has previously advised former Presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John Kerry. She is currently the of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University.
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