Scrambles for presidential nominations are often analyzed in terms of “lanes.” Particular candidates are associated with particular lanes, the lanes corresponding to groups of voters clustered by ideology, identity, or some other feature.
It’s a convenient way to analyze these races. Perhaps it’s also helpful.
In a sense almost every Democrat running for president can be said to occupy a lane. For example, Pete Buttigieg seems to occupy the gay lane; Amy Klobuchar the lane for non-radical females. Cory Booker can be viewed as the great black male hope; Kamala Harris as his female counterpart. Beto O’Rourke inhabits the white hipster lane, and so forth.
But this is not a helpful way to look at the race. In reality, I think there are only three true lanes: the establishment lane, the true believer hard left lane, and the diversity (or identity politics) lane.
Joe Biden dominates the establishment lane. Bernie Sanders controls the true believer hard left lane.
Ordinarily, there would be no other lanes of consequence. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton and Sanders filled the two main lanes and there were no other serious candidates.
It might have been that way this year too if Biden and Sanders weren’t so old, so white, and so heterosexually male.
Because they are, there is a third lane. It’s the diversity lane — the one for Democrats who aren’t old, white, or male.
This is the lane where the most interesting competition will occur. There’s little competition, if any, in Biden’s lane. Buttigieg and Klobuchar might be competing effectively in it if Biden hadn’t entered. But as long as Biden is in the race, these two had better be able to compete effectively in the diversity lane. (Buttigieg perhaps can, Klubuchar cannot, I think).
Sanders doesn’t have much competition in his lane, either. Perhaps Elizabeth Warren can peel off some of his hard left support, but so far it looks like she won’t capture much of it.
The diversity lane is wide open. It’s shaping up as quite a free for all.
If this lane is to produce a serious contender, one of its occupants eventually will have to dominate it. That’s a tall order precisely because the lane is so diverse. Buttigieg might well be the choice of LGBT individuals, but will Blacks find him appealing? Can Harris gain a foothold among white male voters looking for an alternative to Biden and Sanders? Can O’Rourke overcome his “whiteness”? And so forth.
We won’t have any clear idea about what’s going to happen in the diversity lane until the debates begin. However, based on 2016, we already have an idea what the competition between Biden and Sanders will look like. It figures to be tight, just like four years ago with Sanders and Clinton, unless Biden fizzles out.
The Party has changed its nominating rules, so the deck presumably won’t be stacked against Sanders this time. However, the obsession with defeating President Trump, now that Democrats take him seriously, may work against the Vermont socialist. He needs polls that have him running about as well as Biden is against Trump, and he needs people to believe such polls.
Ultimately, voters who think both Biden and Sanders are too old, too white, and too heterosexually male may have to decide between the two. The nomination may hinge on what they decide.