Dems obsess over finding candidate to beat Trump

Democrats obsessed with finding a candidate who can defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE are showing a willingness to give up their preferred candidates for the one they believe is the most electable. 

It's an important trend that will leave many in the Democratic field touting their strengths in a potential general election — and could be particularly helpful to a candidate such as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGiuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it Trump whistleblower complaint involves Ukraine: report MORE, who is expected to put electability at the center of his campaign push when he enters the race next week.

A Monmouth University poll in February found that 56 percent of those surveyed preferred electability in a candidate, while 33 percent said they’d prefer a candidate who echoed their beliefs. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A Quinnipiac University poll released late last month also showed that age, race and gender “take a back seat” to electability. 

The electability factor is “being driven by this intense dislike of Trump,” said Celinda Lake, a prominent Democratic pollster who has researched the shift among voters. 

The results might also explain why three white men are leading the Democratic race, something that has been unsettling to some Democrats who think and want their party to be represented by a nominee who is female, minority or both. 

Tim Malloy, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac survey, concluded that voters were “hungry for a candidate to take on President Donald Trump” and that this explained how Biden, Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Krystal Ball calls on Sanders to follow Yang's lead on war on drugs Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all MORE (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) topped the poll. 

Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has also surged in the polls. An Emerson College poll last week showed Buttigieg in third place behind Biden and Sanders. 

The electability factor has driven the notion, to some, that a man is the only one who can take down Trump, particularly after Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGiuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it Sanders hits 1 million donors Democrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas MORE failed to do so in 2016. 

“Electability seems to be Democrats' greatest concern, so even if many of those touting white male candidates have no problem themselves with voting for a woman, they are worried that their friends and neighbors do have such hesitations,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies. “Under those circumstances, they see a white male candidate as the best bet to defeat Donald Trump.” 

One Democratic strategist who has worked for a string of female candidates, including Clinton, calls it a double standard. 

“While there have been great strides in the past 15 years, women running for office are still written off as dull and boring or shrill and too emotional,” the strategist said. “They are painted as dilettantes who don’t grasp policy or nerds who can’t connect with voters. 

“There are still large parts of the country who still cling to sexist stereotypes about women in leadership — and therefore claim female candidates are less electable,” the strategist added.

A number of candidates in this cycle’s Democratic primary are seeking historic firsts. 

A half-dozen women are running for president, including Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTwo former Congressional Black Caucus chairmen back Biden Strippers, 'Hustlers' and the Democratic debates 2020 Dems honor Emily Clyburn MORE (D-Calif.), who would be the first black woman and first Indian woman to become president. 

Buttigieg would be the first gay president. Sanders would be the first Jewish president. 

What’s unclear is whether such historic firsts will matter to voters.

“It seemed like in the last two primaries, Democratic voters were urged to pick a side of history they wanted to be on,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party who has observed the shift in the current cycle. 

Former President Obama became the first black president with his election in 2008, and Clinton was seeking to become the first woman elected president in 2016. 

While electability is what Democrats say they want the most, Patrick Murray, the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said voters aren’t in a big hurry to decide which candidate that might be. 

“The real test will be as the field gets winnowed down, when voters begin to lose their preferred candidates,” he explained. “Right now, very few voters feel they have to make that choice.”

Lake said the electability factor has “many dimensions” that are still being ironed out. 

“What people are really trying to figure out is if you replicate Donald Trump in terms of style or do you respond to him? Do you go with an outsider or with traditional political leadership and a steady hand?” she added. 

If Democratic voters really make perceived general election strength a part of their primary decisionmaking, however, she said it could be a “big advantage” for a candidate such as Biden. 

“His advantage is he’s rooted in experience, was vice president to Obama, appeals to blue-collar voters,” she said, adding that Biden won’t need to remind the electorate about what he brings. “Voters will have it on their minds.”