Enjoy the 'summer of love,' Democrats

Enjoy the 'summer of love,' Democrats
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Even when you’re trailing behind, running for president is fun. Anybody who doesn’t believe that either doesn’t love politics or has never been out on the trail. There are parades and fairs, new friends and old reunions, intense drama and ridiculous comedy; but the fun begins to dissipate as the weather starts to cool and decisions get harder for voters and candidates alike. For candidates lagging behind, autumn will come in like a lion and they will leave the campaign like lambs.

Seemingly every week, new Democrats declare themselves for president. Many people fret, but why? The field is perfect. If only the Democrats could assemble their nominee like Voltron, bringing the best parts together in a single form. Democrats have candidates with outsider freshness, longtime experience, prosecutorial vigor, charming wit, leadership chops and big policy ideas.

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But we don’t get to assemble our candidate like the perfect plate from a pu pu platter. Democrats will have to choose between imperfect choices. Experience makes outsiders wary of establishment conservatism. Youth and freshness worry older voters looking for stability. Big progressive ideas worry moderates in the market for a return to normalcy. Radical optimism and outsider thinking make partisan warriors wary of ideological mushiness.

Right now, it’s easy to focus on the attributes one likes in a candidate and ignore the icky bits, but that luxury won’t last long. While there are a couple of dozen candidates in the race today, there won’t be that many viable choices come Halloween.

There are several big moments on the horizon. The first is the MSNBC debate June 26-27. That event has the chance to reorder most of the field. For the first time, voters will get the chance to see candidates they know little about on stage together. We’ll see how they sound, swagger and snipe. Somebody will have a moment. Maybe a few somebodies will. My guess is that the two leaders, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), will still lead, but one or two others in the pack will see a bounce. That will help in poll numbers and media coverage.

The next event is the June 30 fundraising deadline. That will matter, because running in caucuses and primaries in several states at the same time is expensive and so are airline tickets.  Candidates will need to spend money to build statewide teams in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina while also planting a footprint in California. As Robert Gibbs, former spokesman for John Kerry and Barack Obama, once said, “Televisions stations in Iowa and New Hampshire don’t take credit cards.”

Campaign observers will quickly know who is making real investments and who is faking the funk.

Don’t expect anybody to drop out before Labor Day. A summer of campaigning is just too much fun. Candidates have to hit the Clyburn Fish Fry in South Carolina and spend time on the Portsmouth pier or the Conway railroad in New Hampshire. And there is no reason at all to run for president and not go to the Iowa State Fair. Everyone needs a photo op on the state fair soapbox or next to the Butter Cow. If they’ve got younger kids, as do former congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one payoff after being away from home so much is a deep-fried Snickers.

After the fair closes up shop and cleaning crews pick up the trash from Labor Day rallies and parades comes the true day of reckoning. Sept. 30 is the final fundraising deadline that counts before the primaries begin. That day will separate the girls from the women.

Expect a raft of people to either bow out gracefully to avoid humiliation or toss away their travel schedules and move all their staff to one primary state full time. That strategy is the last-ditch effort of a campaign on fumes that can’t afford too many rent payments or airline tickets. (Time for a bus tour!)

Some candidate will say they’re “all in on Iowa!” because they’re all out of money to compete anywhere else.

Don’t get dissuaded by the number of people getting into the race for president. Like a summertime fling, the autumn cold soon will settle in and most of the attention will turn away from the cute candidates as the hard tests of winter sober voters up for the tough year ahead.

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns. He is a liberal host for The Hill’s new Hill.TV video division. Follow him on Twitter @JamalSimmons.