Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide

Deval PatrickDeval PatrickSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats MORE’s eleventh-hour decision to jump into the Democratic presidential primary — and a looming entrance from Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBloomberg unveils plan to combat climate change, cut emissions by 50 percent in 10 years Krystal Ball rips Warren's 'passive-aggressive' swipes at rivals Vulnerable Democrats swing behind impeachment push MORE — has rankled progressives and rank-and-file Democrats alike, who say it underscores a major disconnect between party elites and the political reality on the ground.

While the race for the nomination remains fluid and no candidate has managed to pull away from the rest of the pack, recent polls have shown that most Democrats were already content with their slate of candidates before the former Massachusetts governor launched his campaign on Thursday.

Patrick and Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, had both flirted with possible 2020 presidential runs, but ultimately punted on launching campaigns last winter.

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But their White House ambitions took on new life in recent days at the urging of some Democratic leaders, who have grown anxious about the party’s chances of defeating President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE.

The hand-wringing by party elites has drawn the ire of Democratic strategists and operatives, especially those aligned with the party’s progressive wing who argue that the energy in the primary contest has so far been driven by a liberal base of voters and activists eager to buck the Democratic establishment.

Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and national surrogate for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers Reject National Defense Authorization Act, save Yemen instead MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said that Patrick’s candidacy and Bloomberg’s pending entrance underscore an effort by the party’s wealthy donor class to fight back against the progressive policy proposals that have taken center stage in the race.

“The elites in the donor class are insulated from the energy and the commitment that’s happening at the grassroots level,” Tasini said. “What they’re really expressing, perhaps subconsciously, is their class bias. They don’t want to have fundamental transformation. Their goal is getting rid of Trump and making some adjustments around the edges.”

For now, allies of Sanders and Warren see Patrick and Bloomberg as potentially useful foils for the field’s leading progressives.

Both men see themselves as able to appeal to the Democratic party’s moderate wing, and their backgrounds in business — Bloomberg is among the wealthiest men in America and Patrick has served as a managing director at Bain Capital since leaving the governor’s mansion in 2015 — are seen as prime targets for progressives, who have called for more aggressive regulation and taxation of wealth and the financial services sector.

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“The calling card of being from Bain is really strong in the progressive movement right now,” Tasini said sarcastically of Deval.

Party insiders, however, are skeptical that a candidate as progressive as Sanders or Warren can beat Trump in a general election, pointing to polling that shows Democratic voters, especially those in battleground states, would prefer to nominate a more moderate candidate.

At the same time, some have become concerned that the leading moderates in the primary race, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegButtigieg releases list of campaign bundlers Krystal Ball rips Warren's 'passive-aggressive' swipes at rivals Buttigieg: I share a lot of the same values as people protesting my fundraisers MORE, are not as viable as once thought.

Biden, whose candidacy was initially seen by Bloomberg as an insurmountable barrier to the nomination, has lagged behind his top rivals in fundraising, stirring doubts among party leaders in his ability to fund a long and arduous national campaign.

There’s also concern among some Democratic insiders that, despite his recent rise in early state polls, Buttigieg will not be able to broaden his support among non-white voters, who are seen as vital to securing not only the presidential nomination but the White House.

Part of what may be driving the anxiety among party leaders is the absence of a clear front-runner in the race, Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

Recent polls show four candidates — Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg — knotted at the top of the primary field. And in early states like Iowa many Democrats concede that they could end up supporting a candidate other than their current favorite.

But Murray said the lack of a clear front-runner in the nominating contest isn’t due to Democratic dissatisfaction with the current roster of candidates. Instead, he added, many voters “have been complaining about the large size of the field since the summer.”

“They’ve got everything they want, and the options are there,” Murray said. “It’s just that they haven’t come together on one or two candidates as their front-runners, and it’s unlikely that Bloomberg and Patrick are going to suddenly make voters across all these demographic groups drop who they’re supporting now.”

A Monmouth University poll released this month before Patrick entered the race showed 74 percent of Democratic voters were satisfied with the current slate of candidates. Only 16 percent of respondents, most of them moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats, said they would like to see someone else jump into the contest.

Murray said the perception that there’s still an opening in the primary field that Patrick or Bloomberg could occupy has been driven more by the Democratic donor class and other party insiders than by legitimate concern among voters.

“The donor class, the elites, the pundits represent an infinitesimally small portion of the Democratic electorate,” Murray said. “And that’s who these folks talk to.”

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It’s not unusual for party elites to be anxious, if not pessimistic, about their chances heading into a presidential election, especially when their eventual nominee will have to face off against a Republican incumbent.

In 2004, for instance, some Democrats scrambled to recruit retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark into the Democratic contest, concerned about the viability of the field’s top-tier candidates, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryUN chief warns unchecked climate change will mean 'survival of the richest' Conservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill MORE, the former Massachusetts senator who eventually became the party’s nominee.

“Democrats are proverbial bed-wetters and we also want to fall in love,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state lawmaker and top surrogate for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate New poll finds Sanders surging to within 7 points of Biden in South Carolina MORE’s (D-Calif.) presidential campaign. “And there are people out there who are waiting for that love bug to bite them.”

“Some of us are more practical and just want to beat Donald Trump, and we’re going to make it work however it works,” he added.

To be sure, Patrick’s path to the Democratic nomination is a narrow one. Most of his rivals have been building their campaign operations in the early primary and caucus states for months.

While he remains well known in Massachusetts, he lacks the national name recognition held by many of his rivals. And while other candidates who entered the race as virtual unknowns like former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangAmerica's real 'freedom dividend': Hard work and pro-business policies The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate Booker says he will not make December debate stage MORE have risen in the polls, it took them months to introduce themselves to the public — time that Patrick doesn’t have.

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Bloomberg has not made a final decision on whether to enter the primary race, though he has taken steps to get on the ballot in states like Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

If he decides to run, his advisers say he will not compete in the first four primary and caucuses, and will instead campaign in states that on Super Tuesday, an unorthodox strategy reminiscent of former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiDOJ releases memos backing Trump immunity claims ahead of impeachment vote Giuliani to Trump after Ukraine trip: I got 'more than you can imagine' Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE’s ill-fated 2008 presidential bid.

“I think that both of them have extremely narrow paths,” Sellers said. “I know that Deval Patrick is uber-talented and that’s going to add something to the field. But it is extremely late — it’s 80 days out from Iowa.”

Murray, the Monmouth Polling Institute director, said that by entering the primary contest so late in the year, both men risk being “seen as someone who hasn’t put in the work” necessary to win over voters.

“Someone getting into the race late is going to be seen as someone who hasn’t put in the work,” Murray said. “Voters reward candidates that have put in the work.”