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The Trailer: Why 2020 Democrats rushed to condemn Ralph Northam

In this edition: Polling shows combating racial discrimination is a top issue for Democratic voters, fewer Republicans expect a Trump reelection, and more Democrats inch closer to a run.

Congrats to Team Ruff on the Puppy Bowl win, and this is The Trailer.

A racist photo on Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page was made public Friday afternoon, and by the end of the day Saturday, nearly the entire 2020 Democratic field had called on him to resign.

In response to the photo of a person in blackface standing next to another person wearing a KKK robe, some, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), emphasized the long history of racial discrimination in America, noting that the images “arouse centuries of anger, anguish and racist violence.”

Others — including former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — stressed the importance of calling out racism regardless of political party.

“Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders — Republican or Democrat,” Warren tweeted.

The vocal and lightning-quick responses come as the Democrats are fielding the most diverse presidential field ever. Their voters, too, are less likely to be white than Republicans' are, a trend that already led to a Democratic House caucus with more women and people of color being voted in last year. And with 87 percent of Democrats believing that President Trump is doing a poor or not so good job handling race relations, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, the issue is certain to be inescapable in the 2020 presidential race. 

“This is about effectiveness — effective leadership,” Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser for Priorities USA, said of Northam. “You can’t be an effective leader if you’ve lost the people. No one can afford to be on the wrong side of this issue. … In 2019, folks cannot afford to waver when it comes to condemning xenophobia, racism, sexism, on down the line.”

In recent days, both Booker and potential White House contender Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) were asked in separate interviews whether they believe Trump is racist.

Booker, who announced his White House bid Friday, demurred, saying, “I don’t know the heart of anybody. I’ll leave that to the Lord.” But he quickly proceeded to criticize Trump’s words and actions, denouncing the president’s “bigoted language,” such as his description of some African nations as “shithole countries,” as well as what Booker said was Trump’s failure to condemn racism.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning, Brown was less reticent, telling host Chuck Todd, “We have a president who is a racist.” Brown also cited Trump’s actions, such as his questioning of President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and brought up the issue of voter suppression, which several 2020 hopefuls have raised as they begin to jockey for the nomination.

Trump has an answer at the ready whenever he is asked about his record on race: He rarely veers from his message that unemployment rates among minority groups have hit historic lows during his presidency.

In an interview that aired Sunday, CBS’s Margaret Brennan asked Trump about polls showing a majority of voters disapproving of his handling of race relations. Trump responded by citing the country’s “phenomenal” employment numbers.

“I think I've been given a lot of credit for that,” Trump said. He added: “And in terms of race, a lot of people are saying, ‘Well, this is something very special, what's happening.’ ”

The Post-ABC News poll, released before the Northam controversy erupted, shows that 18 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents rank reducing racial and gender discrimination as the most important priority in the United States. That puts it third, behind improving the health-care system (31 percent) and reducing economic inequality (21 percent). It ranked even higher with nonwhite Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, with 23 percent putting it No. 1.

It’s worth noting that the Democrats’ criticism of Northam comes as they remain assured of holding the governor’s mansion even if he steps down — just as Republicans’ move last month to punish Rep. Steve King over his remarks to the New York Times on white supremacy came after the Iowa Republican had already won reelection, albeit by his smallest margin of victory ever, and after he already had a primary challenger. 

“Is the guy prejudiced? Pretty much. It’s tough to deny that. But at the same time, it’s not the most important issue for people here,” one Sioux City, Iowa, Republican told The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes late last month.

In King's heavily Republican district, about 92 percent of the residents are white, according to the Census Bureau. The 2020 Democratic primary electorate is much more diverse and likely to think candidates' condemnation of Northam is important. But while the candidate who wins the party's nomination will face the least-white electorate ever, a projection from last week by the Pew Research Center shows that white Americans are still two-thirds of the eligible U.S. voting population in a general election.  


How likely do you think it is that Donald Trump will not win reelection in 2020? (Economist/YouGov, 1,500 U.S. adults)

Very likely — 28%
Somewhat likely — 20%
Not very likely — 16%
Not likely at all — 22%
Not sure — 15%

About a quarter of U.S. adults think President Trump won't run for reelection or will leave office before his term his up. Forty-seven percent of Republicans think Trump is very or somewhat likely to not win reelection, a number that went up nine points in one week, according to YouGov. That figure is 56 percent for Democrats.


Cory Booker. The senator from New Jersey officially launched his campaign Friday, talking to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Univision and "The View." He has a trip to Iowa planned for the end of the week.

Elizabeth Warren. The senator from Massachusetts says she's making an announcement on Saturday and then following that up with visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and California.

Beto O'Rourke. The former member of Congress has been traveling around, and he's set to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Times Square on Tuesday, coincidentally the day of the rescheduled State of the Union address.

Kirsten Gillibrand. The senator from New York says she's headed back to Iowa on Presidents' Day weekend.

Steve Bullock. The Montana governor said he should have done more to alert New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to the fact that an investigation backed up claims of sexual harassment against a longtime former staff member. 


A number of potential 2020 Democratic candidates have been slow-walking their decisions. But in recent days, several of them have been sounding more and more like contenders.

“I would like to do it,” former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe said Sunday when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper how he feels about the prospect of a presidential bid. McAuliffe said he has contacted more than 400 people and is “going through the process,” with a decision expected by the end of March.

The already crowded field is almost certain to get more crowded.

Some have been in the national spotlight, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who challenged Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former vice president Joe Biden.

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) was the fourth Senate Democrat to enter the race, but more of his colleagues have been exploring the possibility. Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) recently launched his “Dignity of Work” tour and is making stops in several early primary states. Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently caught the attention of conservative columnist George Will, who suggested that the Minnesota Democrat may be best poised to take on Trump in 2020.

The field of potential Democrats includes current and former mayors, such as Michael  Bloomberg of New York, Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, and Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans; current and former governors such as Steve Bullock of Montana, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Jay Inslee of Washington;  current and former House members such as Beto O'Rourke of Texas and Eric Swalwell of California; and former Obama administration officials including Eric Holder and Julián Castro (who is also a former mayor). 


Democrats’ tax plans reflect profound shift in public mood, by Matt Viser 

The candidates are consulting economists as the party debates the proper approach to wealth and the country's yawning inequality gap.

Battle over Virginia abortion measure roils multistate plans by advocates to lock in rights protections, by Annie Linskey

It's not just the commonwealth's executive's yearbook page that is drawing national attention.

Booker is running. I’ve watched him for 20 years. Here’s what I’ve learned, by Tom Moran

The editorial page editor of the Newark-based Star-Ledger knows the criticisms of the latest entrant into the Democrats' 2020 field and sees him as a lot more than a showboat. 

‘I am who I am’: Kamala Harris, daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, defines herself simply as ‘American,’ by Kevin Sullivan 

Harris says she hasn't spent much time dwelling on how to categorize herself, and she credits her comfort with her identity largely to a Hindu immigrant single mom who adopted black culture and immersed her daughters in it.

A Long Talk With Julián Castro, by Gabriel Debenedetti

The former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor offers up an extended baseball metaphor, plus thoughts on trade, his former department and who actually cares about his Spanish-language fluency. 


... two days until President Trump's State of the Union address
... two days until Oprah Winfrey interviews Beto O'Rourke
... 128 days until Virginia legislative primaries
... 365 days until the Iowa caucuses