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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bullock Wuz Robbed

Montana Governor Steve Bullock is the one Democratic presidential candidate who has figured out how to win a state-wide election in a red state. His exclusion from the first primary debates on June 26-7 does not speak well for the DNC’s selection criteria, nor for the Democratic debate process as a whole.

True, rules are rules, and with 23 Democrats announced for the presidency, some worthy candidate was bound to get screwed. But Politico’s Zach Montellaro highlights some of the flaws on the first primary debate process that excluded Bullock:

At issue is whether Bullock has crossed the polling threshold to qualify for the first debate. Candidates needed to earn at least 1 percent in three polls conducted by qualifying organizations and released by the end of Wednesday. But Bullock’s case hinges on the rules surrounding a single poll released in January by ABC News and The Washington Post…The ABC/Post poll showed Bullock receiving 1 percent support — but the question was open-ended, meaning respondents had to volunteer a name instead of being read a list of candidates.

Bullock’s campaign argues that he met the criteria, and Montellaro notes that “many poll trackers — including POLITICO and MSNBC, one of the media sponsors for the first debate — believed Bullock had crossed the polling threshold.” There will be more arguing about the specifics of the rules, and whether Bullock met them.

Not only is Bullock the only Democratic Governor of a red state running for president; He is also the only one who negotiated with his Republican-controlled state legislature to secure Medicaid expansion. Inasmuch as polls indicate that Americans are hungry for bipartisan leadership, as well as better health care, Bullock ought to be considered a standout.

Noting that “the Democratic National Committee is vulnerable to criticism for being heavy-handed after multiple complaints in 2016 that it tried to “rig” the debates and the primaries for Hillary Clinton,” Ed Kilgore writes that “a more generic complaint by another late-announcing laggard, Senator Michael Bennet, has challenged the very idea that the DNC should be in the candidate-winnowing process, as it definitely will be with those toughened second-round requirements (which at this point only eight candidates would definitely meet).”

However, notes Kilgore,

It’s unlikely the party is betraying any individual candidate preferences in setting debate rules that merely hold down the crowd to the size of the biggest family table in a restaurant. And by eschewing the GOP’s 2016 practice of demoting a big chunk of the field to a “kid’s table” preliminary event that few will watch, and giving all qualifiers an equal, random assignment, the DNC is doing its best to avoid putting a thumb on the scales for the candidates most likely to win.

Still, Kilgore writes that “there’s at least a theoretical argument that the party should not do anything to discourage anyone until the caucuses and primaries come around and let voters do the winnowing. Otherwise, late-blooming candidacies will be killed before their time.” Well-said.

We might also ask, is the public well-served by having 10 candidates on a stage, each one of which gets a few minutes to make her/his case in a few soundbites? The argument that it’s just good to see them all together begs the question: Other than the overall impressiveness of the Democratic field, Why?

Might it be better to have a rolling series of one-on-one, nationally-televised debates in communities large and small across the country? Let the networks pick a few choice high-ratings confrontations, such as Sanders vs. Warren or Biden/Harris, and then another dozen or two match-ups selected at random.

Big TV certainly has the resources to fund such a project, and it’s not like there isn’t enough time to make it happen, with more than a year to go until the Democratic convention. Dems could also benefit by hosting some debates in rural America, much of which now feels neglected by the party. As it is, the field includes only three Democratic governors, one of them a former Governor, a complaint frequently cited by voters who would like to see more candidates with executive experience.

Meanwhile, you can’t blame Bullock supporters for feeling a little ripped-off. True, he was “late” getting in, compared to others. Here’s Bullock’s explanation:

“I certainly knew getting in at the time I did would give me fewer opportunities to be on shows with you and others, but I had a job to do and if it ultimately ever came down to choosing between getting Medicaid reauthorized, getting 100,000 Montanans health care, versus getting in earlier just to bump up on another poll, I would make that same choice time and time again,” he said. Bullock, who announced his bid a month ago, waited until the Montana legislative session concluded to enter the race.

Bullock made the right choice. Hopefully, the networks will give him some extra exposure. Those so inclinded can visit Bullock’s ActBlue donations page.

One comment on “Bullock Wuz Robbed

  1. Martin Lawford on

    J.P Green is right, Bullock really did get the short end of the stick. That is a particular problem for the Democratic Party, whose leaders treated Senator Sanders badly in his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton. Would letting the networks choose debate participants be any improvement, though? Aren’t they likely to try to maximize ratings rather than give all Democratic candidates an equal chance?


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