It’s the question many Democrats are grappling with this presidential primary campaign: Do you pick the candidate who best reflects your policy views? Or the one you think has the best shot of winning a general election against President Trump?
At this past weekend’s California Democratic Party convention CapRadio’s Ben Adler sat down with four undecided voters and asked them about who they like, who they don’t, and what they’re looking for in a nominee.
Fourteen of the declared 23 candidates addressed delegates and other guests in San Francisco this weekend. Shortly after, we spoke with Mimi Falcone, a 56-year-old small business owner from Irvine, who says this campaign she is “all about electability.”
“I feel we have to get Trump out of office. And I will vote for whoever will get him out of office,” Falcone said.
But to these Democrats, at least, “electable” doesn’t necessarily mean “moderate” — at least according to 55-year-old Rosemary Wrenn of San Luis Obispo County, a part-time college lecturer and doctorate student.
“A mentor of mine once said, ‘Sometimes you have to put a stick in the spokes of the bike wheel ... just stop and really shake things up a little bit to get things back on track,’” she said. “So, I believe that the candidate that can lead us to beating Trump is the one who can show young people who can show underrepresented people that that person has their values and their best interests in mind.”
Twenty-seven year-old Keane Chukwuneta of Richmond, an organizer for a local health care union, also said that values — and policy — need to come first before political calculation.
“If you start thinking about political considerations before you've put together your policy proposal, you're doing this backward,” he said. “And I think one of the most dangerous things that can happen in a democracy is people losing faith.”
All four of the delegates who spoke with CapRadio offer praise to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, including Joe Griego, a 54-year-old from rural eastern Inyo County. He’s the chief technology officer for a neighboring county’s office of education, and he says it sounds like Warren “does in fact have a plan for everything.”
“And she really strikes me as a policy wonk which speaks to me. But she is not as powerful an orator,” he said.
At the weekend’s convention, which was the largest gathering of 2020 candidates so far this campaign, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also drew praise.
But for most of CapRadio’s discussion with the four delegates, three big names didn’t come up: Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s won three statewide elections in California; former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s leading in national polls and campaigned in Ohio instead of attending the convention; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom Wrenn and Keane both voted for in the 2016 primary.
It’s clear Harris can’t take her home state for granted.
“I really was excited about Kamala when I came to the convention,” Falcone said. “When she spoke to the general session, I was not as impressed which really surprised me. In my opinion I don't think she has it to carry it nationally.”
Greigo echoed her feelings. “She did not inspire the passion or the emotion that I had hoped for,” he said. “I heard Cory Booker speak and it was more inspiring.
Chukwuneta said he has some real problems with Biden. “I feel like he discounts a lot of our pain and the issues that matter to us in ways that I think are extremely disrespectful,” he said.
Wrenn says she has a lot of admiration for the former vice president, but called his missing the convention “a grave mistake.”
“I was extremely disappointed that he chose not to be here this weekend,” he said.
As for Sanders, Falcone thinks he’s too polarizing to attract independents and Republicans upset with the president.
“We have to get them to vote Democrat, and we do that by finding commonality. And maybe Bernie has that commonality. I'm not so sure,” she said.
And even some past Sanders voters like Chukwuneta aren’t sold on him this time around. “He put a lot of these issues on the map and he kind of broke through,” he said. But “Sen. Warren might actually be doing a better job of fleshing out what some of these policy ideas look like.”
With just a few weeks until the first Democratic primary debate in Miami, where do these four delegates on the opposite side of the country stand?
Chukwuneta and Wrenn said Warren and Sanders are tied for first in the race for their votes. Griego and Falcone both named Warren and Booker as their top two choices. And all four of them said they’d vote for any Democratic nominee in the general election — even if it’s Sanders or Biden.