In 2020, Democrats should run like they are Barack Obama

In 2020, Democrats should run like they are Barack Obama
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With the 2020 Democratic primary field mostly set, there’s one big name voters are missing on the ballot: Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAren't delirious Democrats now accusing Team Obama of treason? Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 HHS restores legal meaning of 'sex' — what will US Supreme Court, Congress do? MORE. In a recent focus group conducted by Engagious/Focus Pointe Global, the majority of the Ohio swing voter participants identified the 44th President as their top choice to take on the 45th in 2020.

Constitutionally, of course, Barack Obama is barred from seeking a third term, but it is worth noting that the voters who had switched between Obama and Trump and Romney and Clinton are all looking for a candidate like Obama to rebuke the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Ohio went for Obama in both 2008 and again in 2012 but has been slowly trending more Republican in recent years with Trump besting Clinton by more than eight points in 2016. This is a must-win state in 2020 for the incumbent president who is now struggling in “Blue Wall” states where he squeaked out close wins including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Overwhelmingly what these undecided swing voters want most in a candidate is a return to normalcy and competence, something typified by the eight years of the Obama Administration and completely lacking in the current one.

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But if winning back these Trump voters means running like Obama, who in the current Democratic field best exemplifies the former president on the campaign trail?

Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s heralded kick-off on Sunday in a shuttered former Studebaker plant captured elements similar to Obama’s 2007 presidential announcement speech at the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois — and Buttigieg talked about “American greatness,” “American values,” and “hope.”

After all, running for office itself is an act of hope,” Buttigieg said. “If you and I rise together to meet this moment, one day they will write histories, not just about one campaign or one presidency but about the era that began here today in this building where past, present, and future meet, right here this chilly day in South Bend.” You could easily replace “South Bend” with “Springfield” and believe that these words were spoken by Obama more than a decade ago.

Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry 22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Young Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive MORE, who recently called himself an Obama-Biden Democrat also has ample reason to claim the Obama mantel in 2020. His team is currently building out a strategy that would “cast him as an extension of Barak Obama’s presidency and political movement.”

Biden’s potential candidacy would be a shot across the bow of Trump’s working-class American base, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and participated in the Ohio focus group. In a Harvard-Harris poll from February, Biden is winning 42 percent of non-college-educated voters. His next closest competitor among this voter group is Bernie SandersBernie SandersKamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages Kamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages Playing fast and loose with the economic facts MORE with 22 percent.

Senator Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages Kamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages 22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry MOREannouncement echoed Obama’s 2004 DNC convention speech which launched him onto the national stage. Her address in Oakland, Calif. — the largest yet in terms of crowds — included many references to unity: “In the face of powerful forces trying to sow hate and division among us, the truth is that as Americans we have much more in common than what separates us.”

Harris’ message would certainly resonate with Lynn Savial, one of the focus group participants in Ohio. Savial, a long-time Republican voter who pulled the lever for Clinton in 2016, indicated that she was eager to support someone with “a strong personality, but someone who has high ideals. Not a person that lies like Trump… even if it’s something I don’t want to hear, I want them to be really honest.”

Other candidates in the race will no doubt also try to match Obama’s messaging and appeal, including his former HUD Secretary, Julián Castro, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Senator Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry 22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Five takeaways from first Democratic debate lineup MORE. This messaging will be critically important to win and hold voters like Lynn and her neighbors in Bowling Green, Ohio, and beyond. Democrats: To win in 2020, run like Obama.

Kevin Walling (@kpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business.