Newell: "Anything can happen" in Dem primary ahead of Iowa caucuses

Newell Normand
January 15, 2020 - 11:23 pm

We’re 19 days out from the Iowa caucuses, and only six candidates participated in the smallest Democratic primary debate so far, a stage featuring Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer. This was the last debate before early-state voting begins, so who is looking like a winner the day after, and who seems to have lost momentum?  

Newell invited Dr. Joshua Darr onto the program Wednesday afternoon to explain where the race is headed from here. Dr. Darr is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at LSU.

“Last evening was a little different,” Newell began. “I was really hoping they’d be able to get into policy a lot more, it seems as though they were able to get further down the road on that. Your thoughts?”

“I agree! I thought it was a very substantive debate,” Darr agreed. “I thought there was a lot of agreement on that substance. There weren’t exactly sharp distinctions drawn that we might have been anticipating. There was a lot of agreement between the major candidates. I don’t think anything game-changing happened to upset the apple cart before Iowa, but there was plenty of opportunity to go into details on their plans.”

“I got the sense that everyone was working against the backdrop of not hurting themselves,” Newell continued. “There weren’t a lot of risks taken, in spite of the ways some of the questions that were asked. In particular, everyone wanted to stoke the Warren-Sanders topic, about whether or not a woman can lead this country.”

“I think that’s because four of the candidates on that stage think they can win Iowa,” Darr replied. “Iowa is so close right now, depending on the poll, Warren, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg are all around 20%. If those four candidates each think ‘if I don’t do anything wrong, I might win Iowa,’ then they won’t go out on a limb to get a winning moment. Klobuchar probably also thinks she has a chance to win Iowa, and she’s out there trying to draw a distinction… and Tom Steyer is just doing what he does, which is to show up.”

“I thought Warren had one of the best answers last night, right out of the box,” Newell said. “The question was ‘why do you think you’re best prepared to be the Commander-in-Chief?’ And Warren’s answer was one word - she said ‘judgement.’ Because when you think about the characteristics of these candidates individually, none of them have a breadth and depth of military experience. They have to be able to delve into presentation by defense folks, and utilize good judgement.”

“When you don’t have that experience, you do have to lean on judgement. Ideally, you’d have both,” Darr agreed. “Buttigieg is the only one with military experience, but being so young and lacking other kinds of experience, each of them has to make their own case. This was clearly the most foreign policy-centered debate so far, based on what’s happening with Iran. For Warren’s answer to revolve around that capacity of her judgement, looking at how she’s made decisions in other areas, her expertise in policy issues, and how she dives in and gets really interested in policy. It played to her strengths.”

“One more thing I found incredibly interesting was their position on trade,” Newell said. “All of them pretty agree they wouldn’t sign trade agreements that didn't have some kind of environmental component in them relative to climate change. I was kind of taken aback… I think that’s a significant limiter for them in being able to negotiate these types of agreements.”

“It’s a big condition to bring into it,” Darr said. “How much are they going to lead with climate change as being a make or break condition on these deals? While they all say they are for climate change action, they disagree on the tactics. Sanders is a ‘no’ on anything incremental, whereas others are willing to take those incremental improvements. You’re getting a sense of what kind of President they would be in terms of what values and conditions they’d bring to these negotiations, and certainly negotiating trade deals is very much in a President’s portfolio, so I thought that was revealing.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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