Many McLean County Democrats are taking a "wait and see" approach before choosing a candidate to support in next year's presidential primary.
Health care, reproductive rights, national security—it’s all on the minds of Democrats in McLean County eager to learn more about the 24 candidates vying to face off against President Donald Trump.
McLean County Democratic Party Chair Erik Rankin said immigration will always be a "hot button issue."
“And it’s one that I think a lot of activists in the county are very much concerned with. I think we continue to be concerned about the growing gap in wealth disparity and wealth inequalities,” Rankin said. “Clearly in this community we’re concerned about education. We’re concerned about infrastructure.”
Rankin said despite the issues, it’s not the party’s role to tell voters whose platform is best or which candidate to support. He said the party is supporting all candidates equally.
But is it possible for a party with two dozen candidates with varying goals and ideas to narrow down to one person that all Democratic voters can get behind? Radiance Campbell, a 20-year-old from Bloomington, said maybe.
“The presidential debates are going to help us see whether we can all get behind one candidate,” Campbell said. “I’m really hoping to narrow it down quick. I think that’s going to be our biggest downfall.”
There are endless ways to rank candidates: by the electoral value of their home state, their charisma, fundraising ability. All of those matter. But for Campbell, it's a lot simpler than that. She said she's an issues-based voter.
“I look for candidates that also care about those issues,” Campbell said. “So I’ve been looking at things like the crime reform bill that passed this last year. My favorite two candidates are the candidates that were on that bill, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.”
And she's not alone. A lot of voters are digging through the pile of candidates looking for something to latch to. John Haloaway from Bloomington said it's too early to pick a candidate. He knows the issues he cares about, but they may be different from other Democratic voters.
“Primarily, I am really concerned about the climate. I think it’s a crisis,” he said. “And also very big on social justice and racial issues and women’s issues. It seems like a lot of people are under attack right now.”
Now, Haloaway's values are nothing like those Rankin listed. And with 24 candidates nine months ahead of voting day, there’s no telling how voters will decide which issues are most important.
Rankin isn’t afraid by the number of either candidates or issues.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “Because what it shows is the diverse makeup of not just the McLean County Democratic Party, but he diverse makeup of Democrats in general.”
And the current group of candidates is diverse. Six females, several candidates of color, and the first openly gay candidate. On top of that, most of the group is new to the national stage. Except for a few, including Sen. Bernie Sanders who ran and lost in the 2016 Democratic Primary and three-time candidate Joe Biden.
And issues aren't the only driving factor. Radiance Campbell said she voted for Sanders in 2016. This time around, she's not really "feeling the bern" because ability to win also matters.
“My main goal is the blue wave. Getting Trump out of office. And so I’m worried about candidates that have run in the past and haven’t made it so far,” she said. “I want someone new that the majority of the country can get behind.”
Regardless of the issues, that's the common goal of the McLean County Democrats gathered for the debate watch party. Rankin agrees.
“What the Democrats cannot tolerate is another four years of our national disgrace,” he said. “We’re looking to find someone that can really close the book on a very dark period of our American history.”
At the end of the day, the party just needs one. But 24 is a lot. John Haloaway said the group is giving him flashbacks to the race that caused many Bernie supporters to sit on their hands in November. That hurt Hillary Clinton.
“Hopefully people learned those lessons and we can all come together for the greater good in the community and to move everybody forward,” he said. “And once it’s all said and done we can let bygones be bygones, or anything that happens in the primary stage, and everyone can work together to get that important seat in 2020.”
Others disagree. Rankin said a wide field of candidates can bring out positive results. One example? Donald Trump.
“I think that it was a benefit, honestly, to President Trump to have this vociferous debate. I think it will make whichever candidate that actually wins a stronger person, because they didn’t just get coronated,” Rankin said. “Everybody has to go through their steps in order to secure the nomination. And it should be vigorous.”
Now a lot of the candidates pitch themselves to Democrats as very progressive, yet the nation itself is a lot more to the center.
Rankin doesn't see this as a problem.
“Democrats, probably their No. 1 concern, is going to be having to moderate yourself between the very progressive element of the party and the more moderate part of the party,” he said. “The progressives have a very strong mindset, as do the moderates. We have always been able to, I think, find a fine line between the two.”
Other local Democrats aren't buying what Rankin is selling. Take Radiance Campbell.
“I’m definitely really concerned about that. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to vote electability or whether I want to vote for my values,” Campbell said. “I have pretty progressive values and sometimes I worry that those progressive values won’t hold up against an election against Trump.”
The dilemma is vote your party or vote your mind. The candidate that is best for one voter might not be best for the good of the party.
One thing Rankin is sure about is that “Democrats need candidates that inspire them. So I think picking someone that doesn’t inspire people will be a bit of a kiss of death, but I don’t think the Democrats are going to do that. I think at the end of the day, with these 24 maybe 25 options that we have now, we’re going to find somebody that can inspire us.”
And there's still the strength of the campaign, the candidate's temperament, ability to speak. Democrats will eventually decide.
The primary season continues with the next set of debates at the end of July.
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