A week after the last of the full candidate events — debates of a sort, maybe — for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the real sifting begins, the contender topping the polls will head to — of all places — Idaho. The reason for that is at least an understandable reason: fundraising.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will visit homes at Ketchum and Boise, and raise money, primarily from people with long-standing connections to Democratic politics; and yes, Idaho does have some people like that, lightly visible though they often are in state politics. No particular news there. But the events of last week and this week do start to open the question of where Idaho’s Democratic support will go in their party’s nomination battle. And that’s worth considering, because while the odds are overwhelming that the state will stay red in next year’s general election, the battle over the Democratic nomination may be up for grabs, in Idaho as well as nationally. And right now there’s little certainty about how that will play out.
And that support can move in some interesting directions. Idaho Democrats looking toward the national picture increasingly have moved toward the more activist, outsider-ish and non-establishment contenders among presidential prospects. In 2016, they preferred Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton; in 2008 they went for Barack Obama over Clinton.
What does that portend for this cycle?
It might mean that if part of Biden’s strategy involves reeling in delegate votes from smaller states like Idaho — and that was an important part of Obama’s nomination strategy in 2008 — he has his work cut out. Biden is the closest thing to an establishment contender in the race, and he’s the sort of candidate who recently has had the hardest time getting traction among a majority of caucus-going Idaho Democrats. Biden has a large enough base of support that he likely will be in the race as the calendar flips to 2020, something you can say with less certainty of most of the other contenders. But will he be hanging on in the face of a strong challenge or consolidating support? If the race is competitive, then Idaho may be one of the kinds of places where he has to hustle.
Of course, we have little clarity of exactly what the field will look like by the new year. We can be reasonably certain it will narrow. The 20-plus field of candidates of July is likely to be cut in half by mid-fall; for many candidates the inability to make the next debate stage in September will be a fatal blow.
Odds are, though, that most of these candidates will be around for a while: Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Maybe in the next few months another candidate or two catches fire, but these candidates and Biden seem most likely to be those scrambling for market share.
Who might generate some appeal in Idaho? Who might get the Idaho insurgency vote that seems not to have coalesced yet?
Sanders, as noted, did last time and maybe he could again; he has a base of support in the Gem State. But his kind of insurgency seldom maintains the same sort of emotional drive for very long.
The Idaho Democrats conducted a small-scale straw poll after last week’s debates, and that showed Warren in first place, Buttigieg second, Harris third, Booker fourth, Sanders fifth. (Geography isn’t all, since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was down in the cellar.) But that was a small sample.
My best guess for a 2020 Idaho Democratic insurgency would be Warren or Booker, depending on how they present themselves and pick up support — or fail to — nationally in the next three to four months. There will be significant support for Biden among Idaho Democrats, but at the moment I’d guess he will occupy something closer to the Hillary Clinton spot.
But that’s guesswork. Crunch time for sifting through the Democratic contenders is only just beginning, and we all might wind up with a surprise short list half a year from now.