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010419 EDIT Gregory Clay

Gregory Clay

For a group that touts unfettered diversity, the Democratic Party apparently is missing something in the poll game. According to a recent CNN national voter survey, the lines of favorability for potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 are drawn like this: former vice president Joe Biden at 30 percent, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders at 14 percent and Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke at 9 percent.

They were the top three. All white males, with two of them septuagenarians and one young dude in possession of a 30-year age difference.

On the diversity side — meaning people of color and women — the top mention was New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at 5 percent. His support held steady at 5 percent from the previous poll from an Oct. 4-7 sampling to the latest one during the Dec. 6-9 period. However, California senator Kamala Harris dropped from 9 percent to 4 percent and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s support waned from 8 percent to 3 percent.

Not a good look right now, for sure. But history may be on their side.

Remember, in CNN’s November 2006 Democratic poll, two years before the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton led the list of hopefuls at 28 percent, Barack Obama was second at 17 percent and former vice president Al Gore at 13 percent, with Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina fourth and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts fifth. And we all know how the 2008 election turned out.

“Being at the top of polls this early means nothing,” said Arthur I. Cyr, professor of political science and political economy at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

“History indicates we should get serious about who is in front when the voters do, which means early in the election year. Jimmy Carter was little known into 1976, and reviewing the polls reminded me that Hillary Clinton was ahead of Barack Obama into January 2008.”

Furthermore, according to a June 2006 Gallup Poll, the top three potential Democratic candidates for 2008 were: Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Edwards; no mention of Obama.

OK, none on the list has formally announced a presidential run. As usual, they are being coy, uttering the customary non-committal rejoinders of “let’s not go there — yet” or “when I know, you will be the first to know” or “you know more than I do.”

Yeah, right.

So why did Biden say this during a book-tour speech at the University of Montana in early December: “I’ll be as straight with you as I can. I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president. The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life.”

Sounds like a campaign speech to me.

But Biden still is “thinking about it” — of course. He supposedly will issue an official announcement in January or February.

Just playing the running game.

And what about Beto with that millennial-sounding moniker? (His real name is Robert.) Here is a guy who couldn’t even win the U.S. Senate race against Republican Ted Cruz in his own home state of Texas last month. But he’s polling No. 3 on the national scale, gaining 5 percentage points since CNN’s October poll. What’s up with that?

Is it because Beto is youthful (46 years old)? Or is it because O’Rourke, who is fluent in Spanish, vaulted the nickname (“Beto”) that his family gave him into the spotlight? Or perhaps it’s Beto’s adolescent-looking, Robert F. Kennedy-style haircut. Or is it his telegenic presence that’s media friendly?

Because, let’s be real, most folk — even Democrats — know little about him, besides the catchy-smooth, Spanish nickname.

It’s a somewhat similar situation to a young John F. Kennedy, who capitalized on his media charm years before he was elected president in 1960. JFK, a World War II hero in the Pacific Theater, also maintained a fundamental understanding of the power of the press, especially after serving as a foreign correspondent for Hearst newspapers when combat effectively ended in the European Theater. JFK chronicled post-WWII Europe, including some United Nations functions.

Said professor Cyr: “Understanding and using media, especially new media, is important. Senator Obama gave priority to new social media in 2008. We are all familiar with the legendary 1960 debates between Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Less known is that Congressman Kennedy challenged enormously powerful Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge to a radio debate in the 1952 (Massachusetts) U.S. Senate race. Lodge accepted, and one of the few Democratic wins in that Dwight Eisenhower Republican landslide that year was JFK, who upset Lodge by a narrow margin.”

Also, remember the Republican field in December 2014, two years before the election. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was the clear Republican leader in the CNN poll, holding a 10-percentage point lead (23 to 13) over New Jersey governor Chris Christie; neurosurgeon Ben Carson was next at 7 percent, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tied at 6 percent.

Donald Trump wasn’t even in the top 15.

But he knew how to play the running game. “This makes President Trump’s capture of the nomination all the more significant, and dramatically underscores the importance of media,” Cyr surmised.

With that, we figure someone at some point not in the top three will make a Bigfoot-like catapult up the Democratic charts. And that probably will be a diverse candidate. Who? Booker, who hasn’t lost ground. Or perhaps Harris, especially in today’s atmosphere of the #MeToo Movement. Remember when Harris and Booker essentially used the high-viewership Brett Kavanaugh U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings (or fireworks) as their national coming-out party with their hostile questioning — similar to grilling a steak on a sweltering Fourth of July.

How about Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar? Perhaps New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who unabashedly told Van Jones on his CNN show last week that three white males occupying the top spots was most concerning to her, as she praised the election of Obama in 2008 and 2012. Gillibrand elaborated, “I aspire for our country to recognize the beauty of our diversity in some point in the future and I hope someday we have a woman president.”

Well, if her sentiments ring true with many voters in 2020, then what about this mixture and combinations for a Democratic presidential run:

Such as a Biden/Booker ticket.

Or Sanders/Harris. Maybe the reverse.

Or Klobuchar/Beto. Change the first half: Gillibrand/Beto.

Or perhaps Booker and anybody.

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Gregory Clay is a Washington columnist and former assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. He wrote this for


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