I was a skeptic at first about the early start to the Democratic National Committee debate schedule, the criteria for admission and the number of candidates, but I’ve come around. Already we have seen the breadth and depth of the party. Already we’ve seen the candidates grow, which means that by about this time next year, Democrats will have a nominee who’s up for the challenge in November.
With the first debates of the season just days away, I’m ready. I’ve watched the town hall meetings. I’ve seen the snippets from diners, political events, interviews and interest-group meetings. I’ve studied the candidates’ websites. Most are thin on policy and heavy on photographs, donation requests and feel-good slogans. Some are rich with bold ideas and a real sense of the candidate.
It’s time to get down to the hard part. Let’s start culling the field of a thousand flowers blooming. Let’s find the roses in the bunch.
I plan to go the distance, treating the upcoming series of debates like Season 1 of “Game of Thrones.” I’ll tune in on Wednesday and Thursday as the 20 candidates make their points, score a jab here and a counterpunch there. It’s a tough task, given 10 candidates in two hours — 12 minutes per candidate, not accounting for the time for moderators’ questions.
To make it fair for them and manageable for me, I created a scorecard. Actually, it’s more like a bingo card. It’s got the issues that matter to me across the top and the candidates (10 each night) down the side.
During the debate, I’ll make notes in the issue boxes when a candidate moves me, sways me or appeals to my concerns. I’ll have a box for demeanor — the current White House resident has taught us that matters. Like Pinterest, I will have a special box for inspiration. I have stop signs and frowny-face stickers for any candidate who knocks my identity, pits urban against rural voters, panders or talks down to voters. I will not look fondly on a candidate who describes working people in a way that excludes people of color, either directly or by inference. I’ll be done with any candidate who trashes Hillary Clinton, the last Democratic nominee — full stop.
I’ll probably end the night with lot of footnotes, question marks and arrows. There’s a ton of nuance to issues such as health care, the growing climate crisis and job creation in the 21st century.
I want eloquence, but I don’t just want flowery language. I do not need to agree with a candidate on every issue. And I do not need to like the ultimate nominee — just because I want to have a beer with her or him doesn’t mean I ever will. I’m interested in candidates who convey their core values and the ability to see the big picture. But I’ll also be looking for candidates who can drill down to the granular level for solutions on the most pressing concerns of the day. I want to know how a candidate thinks about solving problems.
Some say Democrats just need to pick someone, anyone, who can defeat President Donald Trump; recent polling indicates that several of the candidates can do that, and some are ahead by double digits. Others suggest that Democrats need to find someone who’s inspirational — someone with the power to move people to vote. Still others insist that big ideas and the ability to challenge the status quo are a “must have.” On my bingo card, I’m looking for a candidate who can do all of that and win in 2020. And, like many Democratic voters, I want someone who can take on Trump without talking about him all night.
I’m not likely to end these evenings with my one true candidate, but I suspect I will spot some roses. Two nights isn’t a lot, but I hope my bingo card will help me prepare for the next episode — it airs July 30 — and move the Democrats one step closer to the Iron Throne.
Donna F. Edwards, a Washington Post contributing columnist, represented Maryland’s Fourth District for five terms in Congress. Before her time in office, she worked in philanthropy and nonprofit advocacy. She provides political commentary regularly on NBC, MSNBC and Fox.