With New York Mayor Bill de Blasio entering the Democratic primary, there are now 23 Democrats running for president. As Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, once said of consumerism — “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers” — do Democrats really need a choice of 23 presidential candidates?
They already have one self-proclaimed socialist (Sanders). They already had loads of white men (13). The far-left lane of the party has a pileup of candidates, including a white liberal from New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. There is no shortage of “coastal elites” (at least 10, depending on how you count). There probably isn’t a “market” for most of the candidates in the race.
De Blasio’s entrance was met with a lot of eye-rolling by all-too-candid New Yorkers and Democrats only too eager to speculate about the reason for his run. (Ego? Boredom? Pinning for a spot as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development?) It may come as a shock to him, but de Blasio may very well find out that not many people outside New York know who he is.
The Post reports, “In a party that prizes diversity, de Blasio becomes the 14th white male candidate for president. But he is also the second candidate in the race in an interracial marriage, joining Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California.” (Honestly, I don’t think he gets “credit” for his wife’s race.) Furthermore, in a party desperate to unlock the key to winning white, non-college-educated men, a New York mayor does not evoke the “heartland.” (And even in his home state, he is hugely unpopular with white voters, who disapproved of his performance — 56 percent to 32 percent — in a Quinnipiac poll in December.)
Does his entrance into the race matter? I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that he won’t be the nominee, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t affect other contenders.
The most obvious loser is Sanders. He was already sinking in the polls, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, nipping at his heels, but it’s possible that the progressive New York mayor will shave a couple more points off Sanders’ support, which might be the difference between getting delegates and not getting delegates in a primary with a 15 percent threshold. (If you get 14 percent or less, you get no delegates.)
Warren, you could argue, benefits since Sanders’ decline means she might collect some of his voters. She, however, probably isn’t hurt much by de Blasio. Warren eschews the “socialist” label and, moreover, is now defined as the super-wonk of the race. Unless he plans on rolling out a dozen or more comprehensive, complex and thoughtful plans, he probably won’t be able to cut into her stature as the progressive policy champ.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg shouldn’t rush to compare his city to New York, but the prospect of nominating a mayor may look a little less strange if there are two of them.
One casualty probably will be fellow New Yorker Gillibrand, who’s already struggled to get above 1 percent to 2 percent in polls and to raise money. Others hurt by de Blasio’s entrance may be lesser known but hard-working candidates who get bumped from one of the 20 debate slots because de Blasio is able to get a point or so in the polls. Frankly, the Democratic Party and the country would be worse off if de Blasio got the last spot rather than, for example, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee or former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Inslee’s expertise on climate change is second to none in the race, while Hickenlooper brings an impressive record as a governor, adds ideological diversity and knows something about the private sector.)
The one beneficiary of de Blasio’s late entry is former Vice President Joe Biden. As the total number of contenders reaches two dozen, it’s that much harder for any of them to break out, raise money and look viable. If the race is Biden vs. “All those other people, many unknown,” Biden will have an easier time winning the nomination.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.