One thing is certain about the 2020 election: Pundits will declare it “the most important election of our lifetime.”
As one voter put it, 2020 will be “a year for eradicating what will be the demise of the nation if we don’t vote rationally.” We’re in one of the most important primary seasons for the Democratic party in recent history.
The field of candidates seems to expand by the day. At last check, a dozen people have announced bids to become the Democratic presidential nominee. By summer, there could be more than 20 people traveling the country, shaking hands and jockeying to be the frontrunner coming out of the Iowa caucus in early February 2020.
1A Across America spent the last couple of months traveling the country as well, speaking with voters and learning what’s on their minds. One thing is clear: The candidate who runs against President Donald Trump will be just as important — if not more important — than the issues he or she espouses.
People on all sides of the political spectrum are energized. Many Democrats we talked to have said they want a candidate who mirrors that energy. They want someone who isn’t afraid to spar with President Trump, whether it’s on the high road or the low road.
As for issues, the people we talked to said they craved a return to so-called bread-and-butter politics. They want smooth roads, affordable healthcare, plentiful jobs, a high-quality education system and, clean air and water. They disagree on how to achieve these goals, but most of them are sick of ideological warfare that ignores or obscures the issues that affect them on a daily basis.
Independent voters will also play an important role in choosing the Democratic candidate for president. Their ranks swell by the day as former Democrats and Republicans abandon the parties they feel are moving too far to the political extremes.
Independents who talked with 1A Across America said they are sick of the ideology, dysfunction, and division. They want a government that operates like their automobile: It does its job and they don’t have to worry about it.
We want to share what we’ve been hearing. It’s clear our sample size of a few dozen people is not representative of a voting population hovering around 235 million. The hope of 1A Across America is that by sharing this insight you can better gauge the mood of your fellow voters.
Here’s what people are saying:
Unaffiliated, 32 years old.
GIS Analyst and hunter in Longmont, Colorado.
Gun Rights and Legalized Cannabis:
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is widely expected to announce his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination but has yet to do so.
George Robinson voted for John Hickenlooper the first time he ran for Colorado governor in 2010, but not in 2014.
He didn’t like that Hickenlooper came out against a popular ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado.
“That was the wrong call for Hickenlooper,” Robinson says. “He’s also not a strong executive. He struggles with decisions.”
Hickenlooper also supported a magazine limit for guns, which Robinson didn’t like.
Robinson is an unaffiliated voter, which means he can vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary in Colorado.
Robinson says he leans left and will vote in the Democratic primary in 2020. Protecting the Second Amendment is one of the most important issues to him, but he’s not overly worried a Democratic president will infringe on his right to bear arms. Robinson supports universal background checks but doesn’t have much support for other gun control measures.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet may also announce a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he’s less likely to do so than Hickenlooper. If he did, Robinson would support him.
Robinson voted for Bennet in both 2010 and 2016.
“I like that Bennet tends to skew right on issues I’m right on, namely gun rights,” Robinson said.
The rest of his voting is based mostly on environmental issues. His litmus test for a candidate is whether the person takes climate change as a serious issue.
Above all, Robinson wants someone who will win. He doesn’t think a progressive can do it.
“My number one concern is finding someone who will beat President Trump,” he said. “There’s no chance I’ll back Trump regardless of who the other candidate is.”
If the Election Were Tomorrow, Who Would You Vote For?
Democrat, 58 years old.
Episcopalian minister in The Woodlands, Texas. A conservative suburb of Houston.
“No Time to Vote Your Conscience:”
“I’ve voted third party in the past but this is a different situation,” Stebbing says. “Our country is in danger. This election is a turning point for our nation.”
Stebbing says she tries not to live her life based on fear but she’s afraid for the future of our country right now.
“We need to unite as one,” she says. “This is a year for eradicating what will be the demise of the nation if we don’t vote rationally.”
She’s seen how divided our nation has become. She works in a church in a highly conservative district.
“In 2016, politics was dividing our church,” she says. “Parishioners were leaving the church over clashes with other members. It was volatile.”
The Two Texans: Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro.
For Stebbing, former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is the top contender from Texas, even though he hasn’t officially announced whether or not he’ll run.
“He keeps himself in the news,” she said. “[former mayor of San Antonio and HUD Secretary Julián] Castro is always on the periphery.”
Two major issues in Texas right now are the debate over a border wall and whether the 2020 Census will include a question about citizenship.
Stebbing works with many Hispanic voters in Texas and believes both these issues have the potential to energize the state’s electorate.
“But even U.S. citizens with Hispanic backgrounds are going underground and trying to keep a low profile out of fear of reprisal,” Stebbing says. “I’m concerned Hispanic voters in Texas won’t turn out in 2020 because of this fear.”
As for O’Rourke, she likes his centrist agenda, although she’s concerned he doesn’t have a strong track record of voting for these ideals.
“I think he would be more influential running against Texas’ Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn, who’s up for reelection in 2020,” she says.
In any case, Stebbing believes O’Rourke’s strategy of visiting every Texas county was a huge benefit in his campaign for Senate and could pay off in 2020.
“It gave Beto a lot of credibility and trust,” she says. “But it’s hard to imagine how Beto would turn a state campaign into a presidential campaign. He barely had time to visit every Texas county in two years.”
The other benefit of O’Rourke is that he’s from Texas.
“He understands the voters here,” she says. “He’s balanced on gun policy. He understands Texas’ relationship with guns. It’s deeply ingrained in Texas culture.”
Kamala Harris is a clear standout for Stebbing. She’s happy with the way Harris handled the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and thinks Harris will get a lot of women’s votes. She also likes that Harris is a seasoned politician.
“She has some baggage from her days as an attorney, especially Attorney General of California, but that’s not damming,” according to Stebbing.
Stebbing wanted Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016. But she’s pretty certain she won’t vote for Warren in 2020.
“The Native American thing has turned me off of Warren,” she says. “That’s going to hang over her head.”
Does she think America ready for a female president? “Yes, but she’ll need a lot of money.”
“[Former Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz needs to go away,” Stebbing says. “I think Republicans and Democrats can both agree on that.”
If the Election Were Tomorrow, Who Would You Vote For?
Kamala Harris. Beto O’Rourke would be second.
Field Organizer with the ACLU in Wichita, Kansas.
Democrat. 24 years old.
“Our country is in shambles.”
So Many Candidates:
Knolland likes that she and Kamala Harris share Howard University as an alma mater. But she has concerns about Harris’s background as a prosecutor and Attorney General of California.
Many progressives share Knolland’s concerns that Harris failed to take a stand against police brutality and LGBTQ rights while serving as California’s top cop. “That’s not damming for Harris,” Knolland says. “But it definitely needs to be explored.”
She thinks Harris is extremely smart and likes the diversity she brings to the candidate field.
Knolland interned for Kirsten Gillibrand and was excited to see that she is officially running for president. She isn’t sure if she is her top candidate or not.
Cory Booker is a good candidate because he has shown a passion for reforming America’s criminal justice system, Knolland said. She also thinks he’s a genuinely nice person.
However, like Harris, she sees things in Booker that are problematic.
“He is deeply invested in corporate interests,” she said. “He has failed to stand up to pharmaceutical companies.”
Booker drew the ire of progressives in 2017 when he voted against a budget amendment to lower prescription drug prices by importing them. He has since helped draft legislation to lower drug prices.
“We don’t want problematic candidates in office,” she said. “But we need to extend grace to all the candidates and allow them to make up for or explain past decisions.”
“A lot of people are really fond of him,” Knolland said. “But it’s important to be critical of his background, especially in regards to the Anita Hill hearing.”
As a U.S. senator, Biden presided over the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. He has been heavily criticized for allowing lawmakers to attack Hill during her public testimony that Thomas sexually harassed her. Biden has since apologized for not stopping the attacks.
“He’s a big name with a lot of buzz,” Knolland said. “But he’s also a white man. It’s important to know there are other qualified candidates.”
Knolland liked the Midterm elections because there were a lot of young, diverse women running. She thinks we need to make sure America’s electoral system is accessible to young people.
She likes that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses Instagram to reach out to young people.
“Young people need to pay attention,” she said. “There needs to be a shift in the country.”
“It’s the American Dream personified,” she says. “So many people with such diverse backgrounds are running. It’s also confusing because there are people you like and identify with but they have issues with their past behaviors that are important to scrutinize.”
Criminal Justice Reform And The American Dream:
Criminal justice reform is the top issue for Knolland. She wants to see a reimagined criminal justice system we can all be proud of. “We shouldn’t just be locking up our most vulnerable populations,” she says.
Knolland also wants a candidate who will make sure everyone has access to the American Dream regardless of their race.
President Trump’s border wall is another top concern.
“We need to call him on that and say this is wrong,” she says. “This does not represent the values of our country.”
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
If the Election Were Tomorrow, Who Would You Vote For?
Kamala Harris, Joe Biden or Julián Castro.
Produced by James Morrison. Text by James Morrison.