With the 2020 Elections right around the corner, the Democratic primary is heating up. Lesser known candidates like Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton have dropped out, while other candidates like Kamala Harris focus their resources on Iowa to keep their campaigns afloat. We’ve seen everything from Medicare For All to mandatory gun buyback programs to “Biden Bashing” at every corner. What I haven’t seen and what some Bates Democrats I interviewed expressed to me as a huge point of concern was the elephant in the room: a candidate that can beat Donald Trump. Bates student Austin Dumont ’21 sat down with me to discuss the presidential race and dispel misconceptions with some refreshing straight talk that reminded me that voters like Austin will be the ones that decide who our next president is.
Austin told me he began to pay attention to the 2020 election as soon as Trump emerged victorious in 2016. The focus for Austin was getting someone “new, unique, and can appeal to the most amount of people”, in other words someone with the widespread appeal of Joe Biden that’s not the baggage heavy vice president. Austin told me he is currently all in on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. His youthful age (37), veteran background, and his professional demeanor stuck out to Austin, who expressed that “demeanor and virtues matter more than experience” for him. “The President of the United States should be someone that kids can look up to; the President should be a role where character ultimately matters in the end,” Austin remarked to me when I asked if experience or character takes precedent for a candidate. A veteran Rhodes Scholar with an open understanding of PTSD and its effect on soldiers, Austin remarked that Buttigieg’s ability relate to scores of people is what made him so appealing. “He’s somebody that, even if you disagreed with him, the U.S. can be proud of him as a leader,” Austin stated. I turned to the subject that most bothers today’s progressives – electability – with Austin as well as a few Bates Democrats.
Media pundits have expressed two concerns over Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s electability. The first, even though this is hardly an issue for our generation, is his sexuality, the other is his cross racial appeal. According to a Gallup Poll conducted this year 64-67% of Americans are in favor of same sex marriage with an almost equal number approving of same sex relationships. However, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) responded to a question on CNN if Mayor Buttigieg being gay was an issue for older, black voters with “yes it is an issue, but I will say it’s a generational issue.” His polling in my home state of South Carolina is still in the low single digits, but many supporters, including Austin think that it will be a non-issue among younger voters. Representative Clyburn did add that, “the issue is not what it used to be for many folks” and alluded to family members who have been an important part of Mayor Buttigieg’s campaign in the Palmetto State. In a state where over two-thirds of the Democratic primary voters are black, Austin says he hopes that as Biden’s support wanes, Pete will become the alternative for black voters.
Mayor Buttigieg has also struggled to win over minority voters more broadly. Both Joe Biden (33%) and Elizabeth Warren (16%) have seen a steady increase in support among black voters in South Carolina according to The Hill. Mayor Buttigieg and Senator Harris both come in at 7% in the South Carolina Primary according to RealClearPolitics. Despite Biden’s comments on segregationists and Warren’s “race faking”, Mayor Buttigieg’s demotion of South Bend’s first black police chief caused controversy because he allegedly recorded subordinates phone calls. This attracted criticism from black residents who speculated that the calls captured officers making racist comments. Mayor Buttigieg cited the Federal Wiretap Act as justification for not releasing the tapes, which added fuel to the fire. This frustrated many black residents of South Bend and that showed when Mayor Buttigieg’s vote share among South Bend’s black voters plunged by 20% in between elections. While his actions do not reek of racism, they do make some black voters question his ability to listen to their concerns. However, if Mayor Pete can win Iowa, do well in New Hampshire, and make a strong showing in South Carolina, he may just be able to prove that he’s the one for the Democratic Party.
Getting back to Bates and to Austin, I questioned him on whether he thought the primary goal of Democrats should be going into the 2020 election. “It’s about beating Trump,” Austin replied, even as I noted more revolutionary ideas like Medicare for All, free college, and the Green New Deal. “Being pragmatic, measured, and open to options doesn’t mean he’s not a progressive,” For example, he is supportive of Mayor Pete’s “Medicare For All Who Want It” Plan, adding that “we don’t need to force people to adopt Medicare if they don’t want to.” I spoke to two more Democrats on this issue of being appealing versus being revolutionary and found some agreement. One anonymous, black, and female Bates student told me, “all that matters is beating Trump, if you want to burn the system down than you’ll see more Trumps run.” Another Bates student, whose parents immigrated from Latin America , was more direct: “get Trump out, we can argue with each other about healthcare and other crap when we kick him out.” Personally, these were strange takes for me to hear. Often the loudest in the room are the ones most people take their political cues from. However, after Austin was gracious enough to sit down with an unpopular conservative, I can assert that maybe the “Silent Majority” isn’t confined to just the right wing of American politics. If Mayor Buttigieg can make it through these Democratic Party quagmires, he might just be the New Hope for the Democrats in 2020.
A special thank you to Austin and those who I interviewed to help me write this article.