In other words, a ton of declared candidates doesn’t mean much if the vast majority of primary voters have no preference at all or aren’t definitely set on a candidate. Voters are still shopping. So why not roll out some more choices?
There are some obvious gaps in the field. No one currently in the contest has a ton of foreign policy experience; you don’t see them capitalizing on Trump’s North Korea blunder. There are a whole lot of senators, but aside from the mayor of South Bend, Ind., the former mayor of Newark and the governor of Washington, there is a dearth of chief executive experience. None in the top echelon of declared candidates has been elected governor or even mayor. With the exception of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — who seems to have the best chance of breaking out of the also-rans (because she is a lonely moderate) — there’s no declared contender from the “heartland” or with much industrial Midwest appeal. Klobuchar is the sole declared candidate who identifies as a moderate.
In short, Democrats should welcome into the race potential candidates such as Biden, Beto O’Rourke, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). None of them is going to be mistaken for a “socialist.” None can be written off as a coastal elite. Many have executive experience. True, these are all white males, but Biden has a track record of drawing support from African Americans; O’Rourke drove up Hispanic turnout in his Senate race in Texas. All but Biden come from purple or red states where they have learned to assemble a coalition of Democrats and independents, plus some ticket-splitting Republicans.
What the party probably doesn’t need are more urban or coastal progressives chasing Sanders voters. Those, they have in abundance.
Unfortunately, we get stuck with the image of a debate in which podiums are lined up from one side of the stage to the other. Instead, think of the race as an escalator with most still stuck at the bottom. There’s plenty of room for others to hop on and ride to the top.