Senators Gillibrand And Harris: Will They Lead Dems To 2020 Victory?

We are not even one year away from 2018 mid-term elections, and already some are getting nervous about Democrats’ prospects of reclaiming the White House from President Donald Trump in 2020.

Some argue it is too early to eye the presidency since we need to focus on regaining the majority in Congress. Some feel if we haven’t lined up more definite candidates yet, it’s probably too late. (Only Maryland Rep. John Delaney is officially running at this moment.) Others feel Democrats lost their opportunity last year and may not regain their footing for a while.

There are a few, though, arguing two particularly prominent Democrats are the party’s rising stars, and it is they who hold the best chance of “saving” a party torn between its Clinton Democratic Leadership Council third-way agenda and its Franklin Roosevelt roots Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders promoted on the campaign trail last year.

In an opinion piece published in The Hill this week, Michael Starr Hopkins declares Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California “will lead Democrats to 2020 victory.”

Hopkins writes:

“One of the primary complaints leveled by Democratic supporters during and after the 2016 election was the lack of diverse faces in leadership positions.

“Rising stars Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) seem to have the rare ability to unite the party and excite the various factions making up the base. While the senators originate from very different sections of the country, their paths to elected office are extremely similar. Both women began their careers as attorneys prior to landing in the U.S. Senate. Both women have publicly endorsed a single-payer health-care system.”

Junior senator from New York, Kristen Gillibrand replaced Hillary Clinton in the Senate when Clinton was appointed former president Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Before that, she served in the House. She lately enjoys a strong appeal among blue-collar union workers, minorities, and millennials due to her support of a living wage, universal health care, and her outspoken, unequivocating criticism of Trump’s executive order against transgender Americans from serving in the military.

Although a new face still lacking mainstream attention, Sen. Kamala Harris is quickly becoming a popular figure.

The former California attorney general addressed the January 21 Women’s March, and flustered Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about interactions with Russian officials while serving as a campaign surrogate to Donald Trump. Being a woman of color–half Jamaican, half Indian–some see her as someone who can unite minority voters who might feel disenfranchised after Trump’s election.

She told a reporter for Yahoo News the Democratic party must enter election season with a message “much bigger” than simply resisting Donald Trump.

She said:

“The issues are not simple, so the message is not going to be simple. But essentially it’s about telling the American public we see them.”

A key issue for Sen. Harris is criminal justice reform, for which people attacked Hillary Clinton when she was the Democratic nominee for president for elevating the party’s harsh policies toward increasing mass incarceration at a time when the United States bears 25 percent of the total global incarceration rate, comprised mostly of Black inmates.

According to Hopkins’ op-ed:

“Harris and Gillibrand are void of many of the flaws that turned away potential Clinton voters. As relative newbies on the national political scene, neither Harris nor Gillibrand has had the time to accumulate the partisan ire that was often attributed to the former first lady and secretary of State. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand suffers from questions about their age or potential fitness for office. Neither Harris nor Gillibrand has to address unfair questions relating to their husband’s indiscretions or political decisions that they were not elected to make.”

He asks:

“What could be more opposite from the status quo than intelligent, hard-working and inspirational women running the country?”

Then answers:

“They are qualified candidates not merely because they are smart, accomplished women showing little girls all over the country that one day we will shatter that last glass ceiling, but also because they represent what makes our country great, something our current president doesn’t come close to doing.”

He then proposes the direction the Democratic party must take if it is serious about taking back the Oval Office:

“…We have to do more than just run a candidate; we must run a movement…Whoever runs for the Democratic nomination in 2020 must be able to tell Americans why Democratic policies will help keep them healthy. Democrats must be able to explain how Democratic policies will help keep them safe, help keep food on their table and help keep a job for them to go to every day. Democrats must have simple answers to complex problems.”

Agree or disagree with Hopkins’ premises, the countdown to 2020 has already begun, and Democrats have a hard fight ahead. They are up against more than an incumbent president; they are going to take on a Republican establishment firmly entrenched with unlimited corporate cash, the Koch brothers, voter suppression, and a country as politically divided as it’s been in decades.

(In the video below, Sen. Gillibrand is standing behind Sen. Harris at the Women’s March.)

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.