Afterthoughts From Iowa, and some Forethoughts

Have you noticed that the Democrats don't have anyone running for president now who is the 25-54 demographic so popular with TV advertising executives? Or, put another way, they no longer have a candidate who's not as yet qualified for Social Security retirement benefits. The Republicans have several, including two of the top three finishers in Iowa (Cruz and Rubio), as well as others still in the race (like Christie and Paul). And then there is House Speaker Paul Ryan (second in line to the presidential succession), also in his forties. Why do the Democrats not have a Rubio or Cruz--candidates in their mid-40s with demonstrated cross-generational appeal?

Watching Marco Rubio channel the famous arm gestures of JFK in his "acceptance" speech while celebrating a strong third-place finish in Iowa makes you wonder why the Democratic Party that brought forward all three Kennedys to federal office in their thirties--as well as Bill Clinton and Obama who, like JFK, were elected president in their forties--seems to have no discernable bench strength in that age group! The only alternatives to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders who get any mention are Joe Biden, John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren, all 65 years or older.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because, aside from purely routine "management succession" issues, Hillary Clinton lost the youngest demographics of caucus voters in Iowa to Bernie Sanders by a whopping spreads! She lost the under-30 group by 70 points and the 30-to-44 group by 58 to 37 percent.

Let's assume for the moment that Hillary closes the double-digit polling gap in New Hampshire enough to pull a Rubio on primary night and claim a sort of victory there, and then goes on to sweep South Carolina, Nevada, the "SEC" primaries in the South on March 1 and, by the end of that month, all but wrap up the Democratic nomination (as most pundits and polling now predict because of the absence of a "Sanders' touch" anywhere close to Obama's and the Clintons' with black and Hispanic voters, who will have enormous sway in the Democratic primaries in the next eight weeks, starting with South Carolina later in February).

The "millennial+" Democrat demographics that Sanders now seems to own will no doubt be enormously disappointed--sort of like the young "clean for Gene" anti-war Democrats felt after the eventual nominee turned out to be Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who ultimately talked their talk but couldn't walk their walk because he could never escape LBJ's shadow over the war in Vietnam.

With the young, it seems authenticity always matters. And Hillary Clinton lacks authenticity to date on the issues that younger voters care about and Sanders is exploiting: student debt, minimum wage, and the power of corporations and financial institutions (try getting a mortgage at 25-30, even with a great white-collar job, when you have $90,000 in college loans still payable), as well as a chance for healthcare-on-demand when they come off their parents' insurance policies in their mid-20s. Hillary may well be a "progressive who gets things done," but she has yet to get those particular things done.

So what can she do to connect better with the disaffected Sanders voters (whom she has just treated to the important but painful life-lesson of a excruciatingly narrow defeat) in time to win a national election against what may well be an opponent who fits the most recent age demographics of successful democratic candidates? Especially if that opponent is Rubio, who has demonstrated the most ideological flexibility in his approach to the campaign thus far, and who would be in the best position to "pivot to the center" of any remaining GOP candidate with the exception of John Kasich. The second-term Ohio governor Kasich is already legitimately as close to a "centrist" as you get in the GOP these days, and for that reason would make a good running mate for the (presently) highly conservative evangelical Florida senator.

Kasich also might well deliver Ohio, the Holy Grail of Republican presidential hopes. A Florida/Ohio electoral college head start for the Republican ticket might look very tempting to GOP primary voters by April, assuming they come to their senses and actually understand they could win the thing and not just enjoy pulling Obama's chain for a few more months by continuing to run primarily against him! If it's not Rubio and the Convention starts with no clear winner, the most likely alternative would be young Paul Ryan, who also covers a key swing state, has already proven to be the GOP's "universal widget' and has experience running a national campaign.

So Hillary's worst nightmare isn't winning the nomination, or even avoiding indictment for utter carelessness in opting for a private server to handle what she must have known to be confidential emails that could turn top-secret with a change in world events. President Obama would likely understand Secretary Clinton's frustration with the multiple prior fishing expeditions into her private correspondence, and her desire, like his own, for some zone of opacity in which to communicate privately. Thus, he would not likely countenance her prosecution on his watch, even if secrets are now determined to be found in e-mails that passed her desk. (If she used her aides to in effect launder materials considered secret before they got to her, that would be another matter indeed.)

No, Hillary's worst problem is finding a way to secure Sanders voters' support for the fall campaign without actually picking Bernie as her running mate! The regular Democratic Party right now just has no visible touch with that demographic, except the President himself. Obama has to be pretty teed off at Bernie, too, for continuing to start his campaign speeches saying the country is a disaster, so Hillary can count on the President's increasing level of overt support. But she absolutely must find her own voice and partnership with the younger voters in her own party. And those are not going to come from Chelsea--trust me.

Hillary can't run with Justin Bieber (unlike Cruz, he really is Canadian). Likewise Amy Schumer (cousin Chuck would be upset). Obama's ineligible. Who else has street cred authenticity with the under 40-somethings? Mark Zuckerberg? He's at least trying to do something, and he really has "got things done" for his own demographic in a big way. He also truly understands America's demographic need for immigration, legal or otherwise.

The actual Democratic Party VP-mentionable bench is pretty thin and lacks the kind of name recognition that even Paul Ryan had back in 2012. Julian Castro (the former Texas congressman) is mentioned inside the Beltway, but that's where he works now; quick, name his Cabinet position--hint, it has something to do with housing. Maybe Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey: Stanford football, mayor of Newark, but of a minority where Hillary already enjoys strong support, as with Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts, which Hillary will win anyway. Elizabeth Warren--but if it's going to be a two-woman ticket, it may as well be someone with whom Hillary is reasonably comfortable, maybe Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a rising but still mostly invisible start under the sun that is Hillary Clinton. Same for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, although Amendment XII of the US Constitution would deny Clinton/Gillibrand New York's critical electoral votes because they both reside in that state.

By default, the vice presidential nomination with Hillary probably goes to one of Virginia's two senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both former governors with plenty of smarts, credentials and swing-state electoral votes, but largely unknown to the younger voter demographic. Probably to the Catholic Kaine if it's Rubio or Ryan on the other side. If Trump happens to get the GOP nod, Warner would be better because he also has a record of telecom business success to go head-to-head with The Donald--and no bankruptcies!

None of these choices, however, would facilitate a transfer of the young enthusiasm for Sanders to Clinton. With a rational choice, it would be the GOP's election to lose absent the full Obama coalition. It would seem, then, that the most vital "surrogate" for Hillary in the fall would not be her ex-president husband after all, but rather the fellow who beat her to the Oval Office himself.