An Australian journalist phoned the other day wanting a South Carolina take on the two recent Democratic presidential debates.
“Didn’t watch the debates,” I said. “It’s all a little bit too early. There are eight months before the primary on Feb. 29, 2020. There’s more than enough time to make an informed choice.”
Unfortunately, sensibly comparing candidates isn’t what’s driving most national media these days. Instead, most reporters are now locked in hyper-coverage mode for the foreseeable future. Just about anything in the news is being scrutinized through the lens of presidential politics. Likely translation: Nothing much nationally will get done between now and next November because everybody in Washington and on the campaign trail will be squabbling with each other.
Wouldn’t it be great if the entire campaign season could be done in a month or two like in countries that hold parliamentary elections? Then perhaps leaders could get on with the business of trying to figure ways out of the various messes in which the country finds itself.
So for now, look for South Carolina to continue to be in the media glare as Democratic presidential candidates duke it out to get noticed. Here are some reactions to what we’ve seen so far:
Joe Biden: The former vice president remains on top of the pack, despite incurring damage during a debate when U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., decried how he worked decades ago with Southern senators known for being segregationists. He’ll get his juju back. And if he doesn’t, someone else will be the Democratic nominee.
Kamala Harris: Seen as a sharp, focused candidate with the precision of the prosecutor she was, Harris is riding high now. But the extra attention will draw the ire of President Trump, who will start withering criticism to punch her down. With eight months to go, she’ll sometime soon face the same kind of media descent that she just inflicted on Biden.
Bernie Sanders: He’s got a lot of loyal followers, but more people seem to be wondering whether he’s too old and why he’s running as a Democrat when he’s not one. He’ll hang in there, but he’s getting served now by…
Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator is on the rise as the candidate pushing practical ideas that can help all Americans, not just a few. Her insistent rollout of new policy positions is impacting the race and making other candidates be more precise about their visions for America. Another thing she’s got going for her among many Democrats: Trump really dislikes her and is probably threatened by her candidacy.
Pete Buttigieg: The South Bend mayor, whose rising star has been tarnished somewhat after a shooting in his Indiana city, may be the smartest candidate in the Democratic field. He’s raked in piles of money, which will allow his smart, engaging campaign to continue to be smart and engaging. Don’t write him off. (If he ended up being a vice presidential nominee, we can imagine the debate between him and his fellow Indianan, Mike Pence.)
Cory Booker: With a strong South Carolina organization, Booker knows he’s got to do well in the Palmetto State to be a national contender. There’s likely to be a breakout moment in the fall, so keep an eye on what he’s talking about here. His challenge: To take his urban experience from New Jersey and have it translate in the suburbs and rural areas.
There are other Democratic contenders who offer promise. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke still seems to have rock star status, particularly among young voters. But they don’t vote in large numbers. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar may appeal to Midwestern voters, but she may not break out early because of the way primaries and caucuses occur. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has a feistiness that’s not getting much notice now, but that could change.
It’s still a long way until February 2020. There’s time for candidate waxing and waning. And there’s more than enough time for Trump or the Russians to do something that no one expects -- and that may cause the ox of more than one candidate to run into a political ditch.
(Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Statehouse Report, and a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email him at email@example.com.)