During the last couple seasons of the political drama The West Wing, viewers watched the campaign for President Jed Bartlett’s replacement. At one point, there was discussion about a debate in New Hampshire just a few days before the Democratic primary there. The main point of contention was whether or not participation should be limited to the two front runners, or if all of the candidates (derisively referred to as the seven dwarfs) should be allowed to participate. Ultimately, in a move that was designed to illustrate why we need an active democracy, all seven candidates ended up participating.
In real life, the 2020 presidential race has taken that debate to a whole new level as there are now two dozen candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Now that even Bill de Blasio has entered the race, there are some people expressing frustration with the large number of candidates. That frustration has been voiced by some elected officials, including that of the Mayor of Lawerence, MA — Daniel Rivera.
Rivera took to twitter to ask Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic Party, “at what point does the party say something? Looking more like a circus then a primary! No way this is a good thing!” In what might be seen as a call for the party’s leaders to anoint a few frontrunners, Rivera added that Perez should “call Speaker Pelosi” or else “this will end poorly.”
Rivera’s criticism wasn’t just directed at Tom Perez. He went after fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Seth Moulton, and said there’s “no reason” he should be running when the state already had a US Senator running (who Rivera has happened to already endorsed). He applied the same reasoning to de Blasio who was entering the race even though Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had been in the race for several months.
While it’s understandable that people like Rivera are concerned about the ability of Democrats to move forward with a viable nominee, having more candidates in the race can also strengthen the eventual nominee and bring critical voices to the debate that might not otherwise be heard. This is part of why so many people were frustrated that people in leadership positions were going out of their way to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination back in 2016 — a move that clearly didn’t work out well in the end.
Clinton isn’t the only example of where trying to jam a predetermined front runner down the throats of voters can produce unwanted results. Efforts to limit candidates, after all, would have prevented Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from even enter the race in New York’s 14th Congressional District even though she’s now become one of the most progressive and visible members of Congress.
With all this in mind, the Democratic National Committee must have realized there was going to be a large field because they were very quick to come out with some rules about how candidates could qualify to participate in the various debates. One way to qualify is by having a certain number of individual contributors, which has lead candidates like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand having online ads asking people to donate “just one dollar to get Kirsten on the debate stage.”
In other words, the DNC is trying to both avoid preventing new candidates from entering the race while also making sure there’s some sort of structure to how the party will actually handle all the candidates. The question now becomes whether or not the party will actually be able to strike that balance before voting begins next year.