Compared to the crowded, chaotic, and often crude race on the other side of the aisle, this year’s Democratic primary contest has been downright tranquil.
The Democratic field began with five candidates, but only two of them were ever serious, and they’re the two who are left standing today: former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. The two are starkly different. Clinton, in her second run for the presidency entered the campaign with near-universal name recognition and as the clear favorite of establishment Democrats. Sanders, on the other hand, is fiercely independent and decidedly anti-establishment. Few people knew his name when he announced he was running for president, and even fewer gave him any chance of success.
In the experience column, it’s hard to top Hillary Clinton. She spent eight years in the White House as First Lady, served for eight years as a U.S. Senator, and put in another four as Secretary of State. She clearly knows how Washington works. While some denigrate her as an insider, others argue that’s a strength — that she’s a practical candidate who knows how to get things done.
Clinton’s decades in the spotlight give her one other clear advantage: she’s been vetted. Republicans have spent the better part of the last quarter-century digging into Clinton’s past and scrutinizing everything she’s ever said or done, to the point that some undiscovered skeleton in her closet is unlikely. Love her or hate her, just about everything about her is on the table at this point.
But that’s just it — most everybody already loves her or hates her, and more people have a negative opinion of her than have a positive one. The last 47 publicly-available polls that asked this question — that’s right, forty-seven — have found Clinton has a net unfavorability rating of between 1 and 21 percentage points. And there’s not some big undecided group of people out there. In nearly all of those 47 polls, the percentage of people that were undecided about whether they liked Clinton or didn’t like Clinton was less than ten percent.
Meanwhile, Sanders has emerged as a clear contender over the past year. Last March, three-fourths of those polled about Sanders were undecided. Now, he’s drawing tens of thousands of people to campaign rallies and winning primaries. His populist message — to fight for the middle class and against Wall Street — is clearly resonating with progressives. Sanders is no schlep in the experience column, with nine years as a U.S. Senator, sixteen as a member of Congress, and eight years as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Where Clinton is pragmatic — and some say better-suited for today’s gridlocked political climate — Sanders speaks in bold, almost audaciously optimistic terms. He wants to make college tuition free; to establish universal healthcare coverage; to combat America’s growing income inequality; and to end what he calls a corrupt campaign finance system. Some have said that Sanders’ proposals are unrealistic, and it’s fair to ask tough questions about how he’ll pay for them and get them through Congress. Nonetheless, Sanders’ platform harkens back to eras when American leaders set seemingly-impossible goals and then brought the country together to meet them.
But here’s the single biggest reason that Sanders is resonating: he’s authentic. To many, Clinton comes off as a contrived candidate, whose opinions are focus group tested and subject to change, as they have on issues like marriage equality, gun control, trade agreements, and more. Sanders, on the other hand, is refreshingly candid and has been strikingly consistent in his convictions throughout his decades of public service. On issue after issue, Sanders has been “ahead of the curve.” Unlike Clinton, he opposed the Iraq War — a war a majority of Americans now believe was a mistake — but he nonetheless has fought ardently to provide proper care and benefits for the veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars.
For Democrats, Clinton may be the easy choice, but she isn’t the right one. Americans have had enough of the status quo, and as Jeb Bush’s early exit on the Republican side demonstrated, we’ve had enough of dynastic politics, too. We live in times which call for new leadership, new ideas, and a bold sort of energy that Sanders, at 74, pulls off better than anyone else in the race. The Pulse endorses Sanders in Florida’s March 15 Democratic primary.