It was a dozen years ago this week that an Illinois state senator named Barack H. Obama gave a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Some thought we’d just witnessed another Julian Bond moment, the arrival of a new voice on the national political horizon. Others — and I was one — were convinced we’d seen something even more special, for Obama had the charm and powerful delivery of a candidate who could go all the way.
Though I didn’t see a new rising star this week with the chops of an Obama at the Democratic convention, I did see enough of the field to put together the last installment of my “Way Too Early” 2020 presidential candidate rankings, this week focusing on Democrats.
As I wrote last week, I believe the prize for the winner of the 2016 presidential race is a single term. It is what happens following such a chaotic transitional year like the one we are experiencing now. You wind up with a transitional president such as Jimmy Carter — who hit his stride when he left office, becoming a model for ex-presidents.
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So, consider what happened the past couple of weeks at the conventions and what happens over the next couple of years as audition time for folks looking for a new address in Washington.
Assuming Hillary Clinton wins — but then loses the trust and allegiance of the nation and her own party over the next couple of years — it will be interesting to see how aspiring Democrats distance themselves from that sinkhole.
1. Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator seemed to be just getting warmed up on the national stage when announcing she was with “Her” and disgusted with “Him.” The test for Warren will be: Can she define herself? If I’m right, she won’t have the low-hanging fruit of Donald Trump for contrast anymore.
2. Tim Kaine. You have to pay respect to the VP on the previous ticket. The Virginia senator and former governor knows how to win the commonwealth, but how will he win over the other 49 without the turn-key Clinton machine?
3. Andrew Cuomo. The only thing standing in the way of the New York governor’s White House bid has been Hillary Clinton. If she loses to Trump or falters after gaining the office, you can bet Cuomo will test the waters.
4. Cory Booker. The fledgling New Jersey senator and former Newark mayor is smooth, articulate and personable — and Booker Backers hope the heir apparent to the Obama legacy.
5. Michael Bloomberg. Is he a Democrat, Republican or whatever? Even he doesn’t seem to know. But the former New York City mayor and billionaire has generated a lot of respect among independent political thinkers. Though he dissed Trump at the DNC, you can bet he observed how a rich guy can catch on in politics.
6. Bernie Sanders or someone he anoints. The Vermont senator turns 75 in September and would be 79 on inauguration day in 2021. His impact in the 2016 race means he has cards to play and fuel to Bern.
Not From The East Coast
7. Kamala Harris. The California attorney general is running for the Senate seat (2018) now occupied by Barbara Boxer in a state where it’s been a generation since someone other than a female Democrat has represented the 35 million residents. Call her someone to watch.
8. and 9. Joaquin and Julian Castro. The Castro brothers buzz — Joaquin is a member of the U.S. House from Texas and Julian now serves as Obama’s housing secretary — gets a bit more glow with every passing year. They are beginning to get under the skin of Sen. Ted Cruz, because one of them will likely be his opponent in the 2018 Texas senate race.
And All These Folks
10. Names to Note. The Dem bench is not as deep as the GOP, but here are some names in the atmosphere: Dan Rattiner, journalist and newspaper publisher; Mark Cuban, pro sports and business tycoon; Kanye West, who would bring first lady Kim Kardashian to the show. Yikes.