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Electability is key to Democrats' 2020 fortunes

Electability is key to Democrats' 2020 fortunes
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As the nation takes some much-needed downtime at the end of another chaotic political year, many Democrats, indeed many Americans, will start to ponder what 2020 will bring. 

What kind of candidate will Democrats need to nominate to beat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE? It’s an important question in a year that promises to bring unprecedented scorched earth tactics from a president who is reeling from an impeachment that will tarnish his legacy forever.

Is it a centrist like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska Jeff Daniels narrates new Biden campaign ad for Michigan MORE, Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegConservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration MORE, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStart focusing on veterans' health before they enlist Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Minn.) or late-comer Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBloomberg spending millions on Biden push in Texas, Ohio Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in MORE, who is spending a grotesque amount of personal money to make a name for himself in the Super Tuesday states?

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Or do Democrats need an unapologetic progressive in the mold of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort MORE (D-Mass.) or a Democratic Socialist like Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief says congressional progressives looking to become stronger force in 2021 Obama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom MORE (I-Vt.)? Sanders seems to be consolidating the progressive vote after a year that saw his political future being written off after a Warren surge ate into his base of support, and after suffering a heart attack at 78 years old.

Oddly, or perhaps expectedly, things have come full circle. Biden is still comfortably atop the polls, with strong support among communities of color, which are critical voting blocs within the Democratic base.

After starting out with a strong announcement, Biden seemed to fall into a string of politically fraught situations — the resurfacing of his hostile treatment of Anita HillAnita Faye HillAnita Hill says she'll vote for Biden Biden set to accept nomination in convention-closing address 50 years covering Biden MORE during the Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands Justice Barrett's baptism by fire: Protecting the integrity of elections The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE Supreme Court confirmation hearings three decades ago, his recent treatment of women, his verbal flubs and his non-stellar debate performances. All of this led many Democrats, including many of Biden's supporters, to engage in collective bed-wetting about a man who did not seem up to the task of taking on Donald Trump.

Except Trump himself seemed to think Biden was up to the challenge. Ironically the same actions that put Trump on the path to his impeachment are the actions that, perhaps unwittingly, betrayed Trump’s biggest fear: That Biden would be the Democratic nominee. Trump’s fear of Biden convinced many Democrats that Biden might in fact be the strongest candidate.

Sanders is holding to a close second place in most polls, as he was at the very beginning of the campaign. Sanders has proven his staying power. His supporters are coming home to him after a dalliance with Sen. Warren.

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It seems 2020 will be a showdown between Biden and Sanders, or more accurately, the moderate, more centrist wing of the party and the more liberal progressives. 

Democrats and everyone else who is tired of the chaotic Trump presidency needs to remember that electability is key. 

As we begin 2020, it seems that the most electable person is Biden. At least for the time being, he can do what no other candidate has been able to do: Consolidate support among the Democrats, voters of color, independents, disaffected Republicans and Never Trumpers, who can easily see themselves voting for Joe Biden but would never pull the lever for Warren or Sanders.

Importantly, Sanders’ and Warren’s signature issues, such as “Medicare for All,” are not wholly popular. Free college and student loan debt forgiveness are worthy goals for our collective communities to get behind. But many Americans see them as slippery slopes to socialism.

As the campaign continues to unfold in 2020, two things will happen: If Warren and Sanders remain among the top Democratic tier (they will), Trump will continue to try to paint all Democrats as radical socialists who want to turn the U.S. into Venezuela. 

If Biden continues to top the field (which seems likely at the moment), Trump will spew fabricated conspiracy theories trying to tie him and son Hunter Biden to a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Trump will turn the focus on Biden, or try to, to deflect attention from his Senate impeachment trial.

So where does that leave Democrats? If it is with Biden, Democrats need to remember that the most important thing is beating Trump.

This means that Bernie and his supporters would need to come on board quickly and enthusiastically, and endorse and support Biden’s candidacy early on. 

If it is Bernie or Warren, which is less probable, the same needs to happen with Biden. And while I think the party will be substantially more vulnerable to Trump’s attempts to portray Democrats as socialists with Bernie at the helm, Democrats can still prevail if they get out the vote.

About 100 million voters stayed home in 2016. Many, I suspect, can’t stand the thought of another four years of Trump. They need to be told why the Democratic nominee would be a better option for them and for the country.

It’s time to step up, Democrats. The future of our nation demands it. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.