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Beto O’Rourke becomes the latest declared candidate in a wide-open primary race
For all of their divisions over policies like the Green New Deal and support for Israel, Democrats are united in their opposition to President Donald Trump. In the most recent polling from Monmouth University, a majority of voters said their most important concern was defeating him next year, whereas positions on policy came second. In these early days of the Democrats’ process for nominating a challenger, they certainly have no shortage of options.
Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly close 2.6 percentage point loss to Ted Cruz in November prompted speculation that he could be destined for something larger. After an initial bout of apparently aimless online over-sharing—he even live-streamed a conversation about border policy while receiving a dental cleaning—and visits to obscure towns in middle America, he has appeared to get his groove back; as he told Vanity Fair “man, I’m just born to be in it.” His words sum up his campaign rather well. Mr O’Rourke does not carry the banner of a specific group like Bernie Sanders and the Democratic socialists, or the policy heft of Elizabeth Warren, but brings some charisma and a generational contrast to the campaign.
Senator Bernie Sanders is trying for a second time for the Democratic presidential nomination. After a long campaign—and, some supporters feel, a bitter defeat—versus Hillary Clinton in 2016, Mr Sanders is hoping his progressivism-first strategy can put him out in front once again. But this time, voters have plenty of options for a candidate who supports so-called “Medicare for All,” sweeping economic reforms and other such “Democratic socialist” policies. Without a clear policy agenda to set him apart, Mr Sanders might have to rely on his energy as a campaigner, which is notably good for a 77-year-old. He has been dogged by accusations that his 2016 campaign was not friendly to women or non-whites. For these reasons, he looks to start behind his mark from last cycle. Will he pull a solid second once again? Betting markets give him a good chance of winning, and for what they're worth so long before people start voting, polls give him a good shot too.
Ms Klobuchar’s entry may be seen as an opportunity for a wide breadth-over-depth approach to the primary. The Midwestern senator has an obvious advantage in hailing from a region where Democrats are keen on boosting numbers next November. Not least of the motivators for this strategy is, of course, that Donald Trump managed to flip three Rust Belt states in 2016 to give him the Oval Office. Ms Klobuchar’s appeal goes beyond her geographic advantage, however. Liberals will find much to love in her endorsement of progressive goals like automatic voter registration and reinstating climate regulations. Meanwhile, voters who switched from Barack Obama to Mr Trump will adore her stumps on corporate greed, revolving-door lobbying, and prioritisation of expanded bad-weather crop insurance.
Some Democratic voters claim to have found a new Barack Obama in the New Jersey senator Cory Booker, and not just because he is young (for a presidential candidate) and African-American. Mr Booker, who announced his plans to run on February 1st, balances a connection to impoverished Newark, where he was a successful mayor, with an optimistic message of unity and love. He has adopted numerous left-of-centre positions (he backs Medicare for All, for example). Yet some on the left decry his ties to Wall Street and opposition of legislation that would have slashed prescription drug prices in 2017.
Kamala Harris occupies the top spot among market bettors, and a close third in public polling. The senator from California, who launched her campaign in mid-January, has placed a very liberal set of policy reforms at the forefront of her campaign, including support for Medicare-for-all and the so-called “Green New Deal.” Ms Harris has a knack of sounding more progressive than she actually is, a political asset at this stage. And she could do well in South Carolina, an important early state with lots of African-American primary voters.
New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand joined the race promising to fight for Americans like she fights for her kids. Her policy portfolio includes health care “as a right, not a privilege,” public and vocational school funding, and anti-corruption proposals to fight lobbyists and special interests in Washington. Were it not for her ties to Wall Street, the candidate Ms Gillibrand most resembles is Elizabeth Warren, though she lacks Ms Warren’s academic record on public policy.
Elizabeth Warren was the next Democrat to announce. The senator from Massachusetts is well known for her support for stricter financial regulation. Although her campaign rollout has been dogged by an old controversy surrounding her claimed Native American heritage, she has been winning the war of ideas in the Democratic primary. Her economic populism—a combination of support for government programmes like Medicaid and Social Security and a wealth tax—is seen by her fans as way for Democrats to win favour with white, middle-class Americans again.
There already seems to be a Democrat for everyone in 2020, and not all of the likely candidates have declared. But according to The Economist’s analysis of polling in party nominations between 1980 and 2016, this early in a cycle just 17% of polls released have correctly identified the eventual party nominee. In February 2007, for example, Hillary Clinton had a 20-point lead over a young Barack Obama, who would end up winning the nomination a year and a half later in one of the closest primaries in recent memory. On the Republican side, Donald Trump had not even announced his candidacy 72 weeks before his party’s convention in 2016.
There are other ways to gauge who is ahead. Betting markets provide an opportunity for prognosticators to put real money behind their arguments, and performed admirably in predicting the 2018 midterms. According to the latest numbers from PredictIt, a popular American market, Kamala Harris has opened up a meaningful lead against all of the other currently announced candidates. However, with Joe Biden, the former Vice President, and Beto O’Rourke, who did surprisingly well in his Texas Senate race last year, not far behind, her position may deteriorate if they actually declare. In the game of presidential primaries, it is simply too early to say who might hold the winning cards.
Picture credits: AP; EPA; Reuters