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Barbershop: 2020 Electability


Now we want to head into the Barbershop to take a look at a debate that seems to be emerging from another pivotal week in politics. And that debate is who is electable. And we're talking about this in part because former Vice President Joe Biden announced his run for the presidency. This would be his third, but he hopes it's the charm. He quickly raised a bunch of money and emerged as a frontrunner - or so say the analysts. And that's similar to what happened with former candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who also raised a lot on his first day out and jumped to the head of the pack - at least, according to the early polling.

But this is new territory when it comes to a Democratic field. It's the largest ever, the most diverse ever when it comes to gender and race, as evidenced by a well-attended forum held this week in Houston organized by women of color. So we wondered, why are two older white men the frontrunners? And that got us thinking about electability and, like, what it means and who decides what that is.

So we decided to take that question to the Barbershop because that's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Joining us now are A'shanti Gholar. She's the national political director for Emerge America. That's an organization that recruits and trains women to run for elected office. She's with us in our Washington, D.C., studios.

Welcome. Thanks for coming.

A'SHANTI GHOLAR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Leah Daughtry is a political strategist. She's the former CEO of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions. She's with us from New York City.

Nice to have you with us as well.


MARTIN: And she, along with A'shanti, have organized...

DAUGHTRY: Appreciate you having me.

MARTIN: Well, glad to have you back with us. And she helped organize the She the People event in Houston. And Reed Galen is also with us. He's an independent political consultant. He worked in the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, and he's with us from Park City, Utah.

Reed Galen, welcome to you as well.

REED GALEN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So we're going to start with this Quinnipiac poll from last month that showed that 76% of Democratic-leaning voters said that they want someone who is electable. But Biden and Sanders are leading that pack among the same group, followed by Beto O'Rourke. So I want to ask each of you, what does electability mean? A'shanti, I'll start with you. I mean, is that code? I mean, is that just a way of saying a white male?

GHOLAR: It really is. And the fact is, women are electable. If they weren't, we wouldn't have any women in elected office period. And we look at the majority of the women candidates who are running - they hold elected office now. So when we just think about the founding of this country, it was made for white men who own land. They were what power was. And we still think, you know, a statesman, a guy with influence - we default back to white men. But in 2019, we know that electability does include women and people of color.

MARTIN: OK. But the Quinnipiac poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning...

GHOLAR: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: ...Voters also showed Biden with 44% support among black voters...


MARTIN: ...Followed by Sanders with 17%, O'Rourke with 16% and Harris with 8%. Elizabeth Warren barely registered, as well as a number of other candidates. So wouldn't it be fair to say - according to these numbers, at least - that African American voters - at least, a significant portion of them - may hold the same view?

GHOLAR: This issue, they do. But specifically, when we're talking about Biden and Sanders, they do have name recognition. People know them. And with Joe Biden, you mentioned this is his third time running. But he also ran in 2008. So back then, people were also saying he was electable, but we ended up with Barack Obama. And part of me, particularly what Joe Biden thinks, how much of this is people wanting those good, old days back - that nostalgia that they had? And is that leading them to say, oh, well, he was a vice president, we want that feel-good, so we're going with Joe Biden?

MARTIN: OK, could be. Leah, what do you think about this?

DAUGHTRY: Yeah. I agree with A'shanti on much of what she said. You know, I think electability is in the eye of the beholder. In these polls, it's - you know, you reference Quinnipiac from a month ago when Vice President Biden wasn't even in the race. So, you know, my - part of my pet peeve here is polling people about people who aren't in the race. And so that automatically skews numbers. And there is a high degree of name recognition.

But look. If we just go back to 2008, no one thought Barack Obama was electable. Everybody was leaning to Biden or someone else that was in the race or Clinton. And it wasn't until he actually did win in Ohio that people began to dream and imagine that he could be electable. So, you know, I always say, you know, the only poll that matters is Election Day. And so, you know, it's hard to put a lot of stock in this. They will - it will change 29 times in the next 10 months.

So I think if Democrats - I think the article of faith among all of us is that we want to win, and we are going to do what we need to do in order to make that a reality. Who actually gets the nomination is going to be something that we - that will happen as a result of the work that these 21 candidates - I think we're at 21. We may be more. Who knows today?

What they do over the next several months in order to raise their name recognition for people who don't know them and to get on the ground - and this is a race for delegates. Who's going to put together the operation that will yield them the delegates they need to get to 50%-plus-one on the convention floor?

MARTIN: So, Reed, you're probably wondering, like, why did we call you? We called you because...

GALEN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...You are a moderate Republican. But as I mentioned, you now identify as an independent. Independents are the fastest-growing part of the electorate according to these polls that, you know, everybody's mad at. But - so the question for you is, like, what do you consider your hierarchy of priorities? And what does electability mean to you?

GALEN: Sure. Well, I mean, I think, you know, going back to what one of the other guests said about - I mean, I think it was Leah - you know, no one thought that then-Senator Obama was electable. Certainly no one - or no one who thinks of us as smart enough to do this for a living thought that Donald Trump was electable. And look where we are today, right?

So I think the electability question is one that is - it is not just cut and dry, you know? Well, this person could win. This person couldn't win. I think that, you know, one thing that all of these candidates on the Democratic side are going to have to go through is the crucible that is a presidential nominating contest.

You know, two months from now or so, there'll be the first debate - couple of debates, I guess - you know, with people on different stages. And what you're going to see is, you know, presidential campaigns, you know, reveal character. They reveal that sort of what-it-takes moment or that what-it-takes grit and determination that Richard Ben Cramer talked about in his book, you know, almost 30 years ago, of which, you know, Joe Biden was a key part, just to give you a sense of how long he's been around.

And so I think that, you know, the electability piece is one that I think it's a little bit too early. I think that on the Biden and Bernie front, I think both the other guests are absolutely right. Bernie, you know, made a real run at secretary Clinton four years ago. Biden's been around, you know, forever - since before I was born. And so I think that, you know, name ID helps a lot in these early times.

MARTIN: You know, A'shanti, I want to - I'm not going to ask you to sort of tell me which candidate you - if there is one - that you like at this particular point. But all the accounts from the Houston event that you and Leah Daughtry were were a part of said that Elizabeth Warren seemed to really catch fire because of the specificity of her proposals. People really were impressed that she took the time to really focus on and craft policy and to present those policies in a way that really spoke to the people at that audience. But the question is, other people have compelling biographies as well.

So just from - just your seat of the pants from right now, what do you sense is the thing that is catching fire with people? Is it compelling biography - because a number of people have them? Or is it these well-honed policies?

GHOLAR: So yes. Elizabeth Warren did very well. I am uncommitted. But when everyone left the forum, the name that you heard the most was Elizabeth Warren. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that she is able to connect biography, her policies with storytelling. She was relatable. And I did not feel pandered to at all. There was this connection. And you had women in the audience going, she ready, she ready...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GHOLAR: ...Which was really great. And the moderators, Aimee Allison and Joy Ann Reid, asked her about this electability question. And she looked at the audience and gave a very awesome side-eye. I have never seen her side-eye before, but it was wonderful. And one of the things that she said regarding this is, are we going to show up for people that we didn't actually believe in because we were too afraid to do anything else?

MARTIN: Interesting.

GHOLAR: And that's not who we are. And she got a standing ovation for that...

MARTIN: Interesting.

GHOLAR: ...Because we do want someone who we can believe in but who sees us. And with her, she is making people feel seen and valued and that she has a plan for them.

MARTIN: Leah, very briefly, if you would, who else impressed you there? I'm not asking you to endorse. I'm saying, who impressed you?

DAUGHTRY: Well, I think a close second - for those who follow me on social - the close second with Kamala Harris...


DAUGHTRY: ...Who was insightful and incisive, who also presented policies in a very straightforward manner...


DAUGHTRY: ...And was connected and relatable to the audience. I think what people have to remember...


DAUGHTRY: ...About black voters is that we want to know the policy. We are savvy voters. We like to...


DAUGHTRY: ...Size up a candidate. And it has to be the right combination of, what are you going to do for me, and tell me the story of who you are...


DAUGHTRY: ...And where you come from.

MARTIN: All right. Well, great.

DAUGHTRY: And those two candidates that day at She The People were able to connect both of those.

MARTIN: All right. Sorry for the short time. We'll come back to you on this. Obviously, it's going to be a very interesting year. That's Leah Daughtry, Democratic strategist...


MARTIN: ...Co-Author of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics," Reed Galen, independent political consultant, and A'shanti Gholar, national political director for Emerge America.

Thank you all so much for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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