I feel fairly confident that the Democratic electorate in 2020 is not going to nominate a banker from the centrist branch of the Party who preaches national unity. But Rep. John Delaney of Maryland is right about one thing. If he is going to have any chance at all, he needs to get in early, boost his name recognition, build his team, and make some friends. That he has already campaigned in dozens of Iowa counties is a sign that he's serious in a way I never really felt that Bernie Sanders was in 2014 and 2015.
He's also got a very sane basic plan.
Delaney left South Carolina on Saturday to speak at a Democratic summit in Maryland, then planned, as he does every Monday, to convene a staff meeting in Washington to plot campaign strategy for the week. He is focused almost exclusively on Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I view us as running a full scale campaign at this point,” Delaney said. “The way I think about it kind of simply is, there are six congressional districts in Iowa and New Hampshire … I’m doing all the things you would do to run a congressional campaign times six in those states.”
Winning either of the first two presidential nominating contests is a giant job for anyone, but breaking it down into six bite-sized missions is a very sensible way to approach the challenge.
People will say that members of the House simply don't win party nominations, let alone the presidency. And that's true. You have to go back to James Garfield to find a president elected from the House of Representatives. But it's not the elected office he holds that will be the biggest obstacle for him. His problem will be that Hillary Clinton was known as a ruthless political knife fighter and she wasn't tough enough to beat Donald Trump. Democrats are going to be looking for someone who can stand toe to toe with the Republican nominee and give better than they get. They won't be eager to listen to platitudes about bringing the country together and working across the aisle.
Aside from that, it's always tough for centrists to win over party purists, unless they can win substantial institutional support from within the leadership of the party. So, while progressive candidates are usually "the alternative" in Democratic presidential primaries, that's because they can't solve the electability problem. A candidate as far to the right as Delaney can't easily win endorsements or gain approval from more mainstream Democratic lawmakers and organizations. In other words, he'll have the same basic problem faced by precursors like Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, and Bernie Sanders, but you can add to it that he will lack the passionate and committed supporters those candidates had working for them. A candidate like Delaney will always be a more plausible general election candidate than he could ever be as a party champion. However, in order to give himself a chance, he needs to do things he is doing now. There will be an audience that likes what he's saying and if the national mood develops just the right way, the electorate may be emerging from such a bruising fight that it's in the mood for someone who can perform in a reconciliatory role. I don't like his odds but after 2016, I can't discount him entirely either.