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Election 2020: Preparing for the Dems' big show 

Well, here we go, into what could be a truly wild year: Two months from now, Democrats will stage their first presidential candidate debate. So far, the party has 18 candidates, and as many as six or seven more may get in. Good heavens.

Based on what we’re seeing among the most visible candidates right now, there’ll be a lot of focus on issues in the Democratic campaign. On how progressive or how moderate a candidate is. The main goal for the party, though – and the main goal for many of us, regardless of party – is to put somebody besides Donald Trump in the White House. And that’s easier said than done.

The televised debates are an increasingly important first step in this process. They don’t tell us everything we need to know, but they do tell us a lot. For one thing, they give us a sense of how appealing a candidate is. That’s not a small issue, particularly now. To have any chance at winning, candidates will have to inspire and excite a broad population: conservatives, moderates, and liberals.

And any Democrat who hopes to govern after being elected will have to win by a big margin. Big in the popular vote, solid in the Electoral College. A Democratic candidate will have to win over some of the Trump base. And given the behavior of the Republican Senate, the Democrats' candidate needs to win big enough to sweep in a Democratic Senate and House.

Charisma, confidence, “likeability”: all of those things will be important. They were important in 2016, in the primaries and in the Trump-Clinton election campaign. And we can get a sense of those qualities in the debates. We may not like it, but that’s the state of politics we’re in right now. Charisma counts. If the Democratic candidate is boring – and yes, if it’s someone who comes across as too far out on the fringe – Trump will get a second term.

Electability can’t be the only criteria, either. By the end of four years, the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress will have done incredible damage, and it’ll take a president with very special qualities to restore the country and its reputation.

Resumes count, then. The next president needs to know enough about the country’s government, its laws and history and politics – and enough about leading a large bureaucracy – to be effective.

Based on their resumes, the declared candidates and potential candidates are a fascinating group, ranging from the really young (Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard, both 37) to the old (Bernie Sanders, 77, and Joe Biden, 76). For comparison: The youngest president we’ve had was Teddy Roosevelt, who was 42 when McKinley was assassinated. The oldest president we’ve had (based on his age on inauguration day): Donald Trump, 70.

How important is experience in elected office? Joe Biden clearly has the most: (New Castle, Delaware, County Council for two years; US Senator, 1972 to 2009; US vice president 2009 to 2017). Wayne Messam, on the other hand, has been mayor of Miramar, Florida (population about 140,000) for four years. And two candidates have never been elected to public office: entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson, who writes self-help books and gives motivational speeches. (Good heavens.)

The current hot candidate is Pete Buttigieg. He’s young, bright, charismatic, and moderate. His resume: mayor of South Bend, Indiana, population 102,000 – slightly more than Greece, New York. Does that qualify him for the presidency?

This'll be interesting.

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