Updates from the Invisible Democratic Primary

Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris are running. Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders are still undecided.

Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California listens to voters during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, April 21, 2017
Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California listens to voters during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, April 21, 2017 (Office of Senator Kamala Harris)

Is it really the invisible primary anymore when so many Democrats are officially running for president?

  • New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand has formed an exploratory committee.
  • California senator Kamala Harris has skipped the exploratory phase and announced she is running.
  • Former vice president Joe Biden has apologized for supporting tough-on-crime laws in the 1990s that disproportionately affected African Americans.
  • If he runs, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg would center his campaign on climate change and gun laws. The former Republican may be out of sync with today’s Democratic Party, but he would be the only centrist in a crowded field.
  • Bernie Sanders isn’t generating much enthusiasm. Former staffers are wary of a rerun. The Boston Globe reports that even as Sanders has moved the Democratic Party to the left on health care, college tuition and the minimum wage, the party has moved past him personally. The New Republic still has hope.

Gillibrand versus Harris

  • Gillibrand faces criticism from the left for her past conservative views on gay marriage, gun rights and immigration. But left-wing media, including Daily Kos and The Guardian, have come to her defense.
  • FiveThirtyEight argues Harris may be the strongest contender (for now), and I agree. She is ideologically right where many Democrats want their candidate to be, deviating only on law and order (which could help her win over Romney-to-Clinton voters in a general election), and she appeals to key Democratic constituencies: women, voters of colors, party loyalists and West Coast progressives.
  • Another argument in Harris’ favor: she raised more money than any other Democratic senator last year.

What is the invisible primary again?

Jonathan Bernstein recently had a good summary in his column for Bloomberg View:

For the past two years, as many as three dozen Democrats have been trying to line up support among party actors — politicians, campaigning and governing professionals, formal party staff and officials, activists and donors, party-aligned interest groups and the partisan press — and now we’re finding out the first results of that competition. By the time voters have a say in February 2020 (or earlier; the calendar isn’t final yet), a good deal of sorting out will have been done. And those party actors will have given some candidates considerable resources and others very little.