The lack of candidates vying for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination is unfortunate, and will yield a less than interesting primary season.
The field in the race is narrowing quickly. Yesterday, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt announced that he has chosen not to seek the nomination. Gephardt has set his sights on becoming speaker of the house, a position he would inherit if the Democrats manage to win control of the House of Representatives in 2000. With Gephardt out of the race, Vice President Al Gore’s competition is rapidly diminishing. Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley is the only other major candidate that has declared an intention to run. On the other hand, Gephardt joins Sens. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb, and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., as other Democrats who have decided to forgo a run.
Without a large field, the Democratic primaries will fail to offer a forum for a wide variety of viewpoints. The 1996 Republican field included a flat taxer, a protectionist and an institutionalist. While in hindsight Bob Dole’s nomination proved inevitable, the contrasting viewpoints brought an interest and vigor that might not have otherwise have existed. Perhaps there is still time for more candidates to enter the Democratic field, but the failure of candidates with national stature to step forward makes a serious contrast more difficult.
Moreover, should Gore win the nomination in such a circumscribed field, he will not have demonstrated that he has serious national support among the rank and file of his party. Given the advantages of the vice presidency, foresight tells us Gore will win the Democratic nomination. If Bradley is unable to mount a credible run, it will be a cakewalk. Who will challenge Gore on campaign finance reform? Will he be charged with having refused to be vocal when President Clinton’s moral failings came to light? These are big issues, best faced during the primaries. Unfortunately, it appears as if they will be swept under the rug.
With Gore’s nomination a certainty, normal Americans will be less inclined to participate in the political process. The possibility of Jesse Jackson entering the race could energize some voters. Another non-candidate whose constituency could be up for grabs is Wellstone, whose progressive supporters will be without a standard bearer. Without candidates such as Wellstone, interest in the race will dwindle because many will feel their views are being left out.
The Democratic party needs more candidates with potential for generating a national following to enter the race. Instead of settling for the vice presidential nomination, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., should become a candidate herself. Even candidates like Jerry Brown would be a welcome addition.
Without even minimal opposition, Gore’s nomination will be devoid of meaning. A serious discussion of the issues should take place. Clinton’s troubles have caused the Democratic Party to unite. Unfortunately, this has had the effect of stifling a debate that would be worth hearing.