Where are the young Democrats?

From Cruz to Paul, GOP is loaded with national figures under 50. Dems seemingly have no one to rival them in 2020

Topics: Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016 Elections, Democratic Party, 2014 elections, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Democrats, Republicans, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Editor's Picks, ,

Where are the young Democrats?President Barack Obama, Governor Martin O'Malley (Credit: Reuters/Jim Young)

With Hillary Clinton the runaway favorite as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee (should she run), Republicans are already making clear that they will focus attention on her age, reports Jonathan Martin of the New York Times. Clinton will be nearly 70 if she runs in three years, “a generation removed from most of the possible Republican candidates.” As Mike Tomasky and Alec MacGillis wrote Monday, the attacks could backfire — and Karl Rove’s notion that the GOP will capture a large portion of the youth vote because of Clinton’s age is laughable.

But the attack does reveal a key weakness in today’s Democratic Party that could haunt it for the next decade or more — it has a relatively barren farm system of young up-and-comers. The party could easily survive 2016 with Clinton at the top of the ticket, but what about subsequent cycles?

Since 2008, the GOP has recruited a long roster of relatively youthful potential presidential nominees (both for 2016 and beyond), while Democratic hopes rest in the family that already controlled the White House once after rising to prominence 20 years ago. The current leaders of the party have served it well, but no one seems to be planning for who comes next.

Say what you want about it, but today’s Republican Party is led by slew of 40-somethings. There’s Marco Rubio (42), Paul Ryan (43), Chris Christie (50) and Rand Paul (50). There’s also Ted Cruz (42), South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (41), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (42), and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (45). These leaders are likely to be around far beyond the next presidential cycle. The only Republican who gets much attention regarding 2016 and is on the older side is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who just turned 60 in February.

What about Democrats? Clinton is currently 65, then there’s Joe Biden (70). Beyond them, two politicians most commonly mentioned in connection to the presidency are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (55) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (50). Both could be compelling options to liberals – yet neither is as young as most of the GOP options.

After that, Democratic national leaders are more unclear. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is mentioned often — he’s 57. The party has perhaps one true star in Elizabeth Warren (64). Liberals love her colleague, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown (60), while moderates might get behind Virginia’s Mark Warner (58). Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick? 56. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper? 61. That leaves just two nationally regarded Democrats in their 40s: Newark Mayor Cory Booker (44) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (46).

You Might Also Like

Age in and of itself may be irrelevant to performing the job, but in building a movement it’s obviously more desirable to have younger leaders who can carry the baton for years to come. While the GOP’s bumper crop of young talent is driving such a movement to bring the the party into the future, Democrats are safer and apparently more content. This isn’t necessarily a problem for 2016, given Clinton’s strength (assuming she runs), but may well be one for 2020, 2024 and so on. Of course, some current leaders will fall before then, and new ones will emerge, but it’s easy to see who might be leading the GOP five years from now. It’s much murkier for the Democrats.

Why might Democrats not be building a farm team? For one, the current leaders are crowding everyone else out. Just take Clinton. She’s so popular, so powerful, so well connected and so capable of fundraising that up-and-comers may deem it futile (or even suicidal) to challenge her. And they’re not wrong. In February, a PPP poll found that Clinton was the first choice of 58 percent of Democratic voters nationally, and 68 percent of voters in Iowa, where the first primary contest will take place. Joe Biden is way behind her at 19 percent. And after the vice president, it’s a smattering of single digits for the Cuomo, O’Malley, Warren and the rest. By contrast, the GOP’s current leader, Marco Rubio, barely edges out the competition with 22 percent nationally and 16 percent in Iowa.

The picture gets even bleaker for the next generation when you consider the fact that when PPP removed Clinton’s name from contention, Biden captured 57 percent of the vote, leaving the rest of the field at 5 percent or less. And Biden is widely expected to bow out if Clinton runs.

Of course, a lot can change in the next three years and early polls are almost always wrong. But it’s hard to think of any candidate in either party who has ever had anywhere close to the lock on the nomination that Clinton does now so far out. Polls from February 2005, three years out from 2008, missed Obama and inaccurately predicted Clinton would win, but she was only capturing about 40 percent, with John Kerry and John Edwards taking big chunks of the electorate. Right now, Clinton not only has a far bigger share of the vote than she did eight years ago, but essentially zero competition.

Another reason the Democrats may trail the Republicans in building for the future, is that while control of the White House is obviously good for your party’s policy agenda, it leaves little room for long-term bench building. Being in the opposition is more favorable to star creation. By 2016, Republicans will have had eight years and two presidential campaign cycles of media coverage and speculation about potential candidates, raising the national profiles of candidates and would-be non-candidates alike who have made a name for themselves either standing up to Obama (Paul, Cruz, Ryan) or by breaking from their own parties (Rubio, Christie).

By contrast, Democrats had no primary contest in 2012 and may have a fairly pro forma one in 2016, depriving their farm team of valuable experience of running. (Even a failed campaign yields media attention, national visibility, a network of campaign staff and funders, and connections to local leaders and volunteers.)

Meanwhile, the internal politics of the GOP are much friendlier to young insurgents than those on the Democratic side. The leaders of the Democratic Party are immensely popular among the base, as is the party itself. While 73 percent of liberals have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, just 56 percent of conservatives like the GOP.

Eighty-five percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Obama (and that’s down from from a few months ago), while that number is 88 percent for Clinton and close to that for Biden. And despite being the least liked member of a deeply disliked body, Nancy Pelosi is viewed favorably by 62 percent of Democrats. On the other hand, just 52 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of John Boehner — Mitch McConnell’s approval rating among GOP voters is a measly 38 percent.

With few popular leaders and a general dissatisfaction with the party overall, there’s a big vacuum for young insurgent Republicans politicians to move up. Meanwhile, Democrats feel pretty satisfied with their leaders, so there’s little impetus for new blood.

Again, the Democrats may get away with a shoddy bench in 2016, assuming Clinton runs and things play out even remotely like they look like they might at the moment (a big if). But it can’t work forever; eventually a poor farm system catches up to you. To stay on top a decade from now, Democrats will need to recruit and elevate new leaders, and give room to stars like Warren to grow their national brand. (Remember Julian Castro?)

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...