Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of John Wylie.
With 24 Democratic presidential candidates in the race, Democrats everywhere have tuned in to hear what candidates have to say and start narrowing down the field. Including here in Rogers County.
Locals Susan Raasch, Kurt Levan, Kendall Schmidt, John Wylie and Shelly Taylor shared their thoughts on the 2020 presidential primaries so far.
The Number of Candidates
The response to the number of candidates running in the primary was a mix of excitement and frustration.
“My main reaction to the debate was that it was really exciting and refreshing to see such a wide range of candidates debating the real issues that face this country,” Wylie said. “They all made me proud to be a Democrat.”
“We got to hear more of a variety of viewpoints within our party compared to past primaries where we have only had four or five candidates,” Levan said. “But I also feel like a lot of candidates who would otherwise perform well got drowned out.”
Schmidt said, “I think it is indicative that we have really good people to choose from, lots of good options, and I think also a lot of people are motivated because of the current administration that we have.”
Although she was grateful to be introduced to new names and ideas, Raasch said she is looking forward to the field being narrowed down to a handful of frontrunners so that more attention can be paid to specific platforms.
“Part of me thinks there are too many but I also think it gets good options,” Taylor said. “There is a wide spectrum of knowledge and experience between all of them.”
Most respondents noted health care as their top priority.
“An expansion of Medicaid for all is definitely a top priority for the Democratic party and a top priority for me as a voter,” Levan said. “This is where I tend to side more with moderate candidates such as Congressman John Delaney, who don’t want to take people’s private insurance options away, as compared with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who want to make it a single-payer health care system with only a government insurance option. That is a little bit too far left of center for the United States.”
Raasch agreed that healthcare was a top priority, and that a more conservative solution is necessary. She said an affordable public option that allows people to keep their private insurance is ideal.
“I want someone who is more moderate in their political stances,” Raasch said. “I’m looking for a candidate that is in favor of addressing the opioid epidemic and pharmacy costs.”
Raasch also suggested that the pharmaceuticals available to Medicare recipients be put out for bid in order to lower the prices.
For Taylor, healthcare was followed closely by education, fair taxing of the top 1 percent of earners, and civil rights for all, including women, LGBTQ+ individuals and immigrants.
“We need somebody with a more modern vision and knowledge of how to humanely and fairly handle immigration,” Taylor said.
Characteristics that Matter
Respondents note a variety of characteristics that were crucial in choosing their preferred candidate.
“Women and minorities don’t have a fair shot in this country for political office,” Schmidt said, as evidenced by the small numbers that run for office and the smaller numbers that are elected. “Sadly, they are just not respected enough by the voters as they should be.”
“I want someone who is electable,” Schmidt said. “Some people have great ideas, but they are just not going to work for all of America.”
Raasch seconded this point.
“I’m looking for problem solvers who come to the table with reasonable solutions and who will be moderate enough that they can be competitive,” Raasch said.
“I want someone who is positive. I want someone who is running for something, not against something else,” she said. “I like someone who is honest and even tempered, makes good choices and is dependable.”
Taylor said she hopes for, “someone who has the mass populations best interest at heart.”
“Ultimately I hope that we wind up with a president that brings a complete change to the current administration,” Taylor said. “Somebody who is well-spoken. Somebody who is strong yet compassionate. Someone who is honest. Someone with true abilities to make decisions for this country that we have lacked since the previous administration left office.”
“A complete lack of government experience is not an asset,” Wylie said.
He also noted, “charisma is a great motivator.”
He used speeches by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy as examples.
“Kennedy didn’t necessarily change everybody’s minds to adopt his policies, but he got a whole lot of people involved, and that is what it takes to make a country great, to get people involved,” Wylie said. “I think we have a group of Democratic candidates, whoever comes out on top, that are going to have that same effect.”
None of the respondents fully committed to a single candidate at this point in the primaries.
“I haven’t really made a decision of who I am going to support, it is too early,” Levan said. “If I had to choose today out of the candidates that are on the ballot, I’m supporting former Congressman John Delaney from Maryland. He tends to be more moderate compared to the rest of the candidates. With the big name candidates, Pete Buttigieg of Indiana has also caught my eye, and I am keeping an eye on him going forward.”
“I really like Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, but Elizabeth Warren is also very knowledgeable,” Taylor said. “I hope to see it come down to those three. They are the most knowledgeable and experienced.”
Schmidt highlighted Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as top picks.
She added, however, “I prefer all of them to Trump.”
“I am far from making a decision about who I am going to be supporting, but I think we have a very wide range of candidates there and an incredible amount of talent,” Wylie said. Wylie added that many of the candidates who don’t emerge as the nominee have strengths that would make for a good vice president or cabinet member.
“I think they are all in it for the right reasons,” Wylie said. “They have particular ways that they think will lead America forward most effectively for the most number of Americans.”
Raasch said she is still looking for a candidate she can fully support.
“I like former Vice President Biden. I think he is nice and I like that he knows leaders all across the world. He has all the resume and credentials that he needs to do the job,” Raasch said. “But he is 76 years old. This is my 70th year and I’m thinking I’m not as sharp as I was 10 years ago, so I worry that maybe he’s not as sharp as he used to be.”
“The next generation needs to come on and show their stuff,” Raasch said. Among those she favored were young leaders who have succeeded in red states such as Montana Governor Steve Bullock and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The Importance of Debate
Respondents differed on the level of importance they placed on the debates themselves.
“Most of the forerunners in the election, I feel like I already know them. I follow them on social media. I follow them in the news. I know what policies they support and which ones they don’t. I know what bills they’ve gotten behind. I’m a pretty informed voter, typically, so a few minutes of talking in the debate is not going to make a big difference for me,” Schmidt said. “To me, it’s not important how they perform in a few minutes on a debate stage, it’s about their track record.”
However, Wylie said, the process of debating made each of them better candidates moving forward.
“The very fact that you’ve got people exchanging ideas in public and defending their programs, and listening as well as talking … In that process you will see an evolution of ideas where people start coming together,” Wylie said.
In the vein of Will Rogers famous quote, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” Wylie said, “I never met a good idea I wouldn’t borrow.”
“I can remember when compromise was not a dirty word in politics, and I’m hoping that we will see that come back,” Wylie said. “I don’t mean compromising honesty or devotion to Constitutional principles, but I do mean that government and society has gotten so complex that there are multiple ways of approaching problems.”
The debates are also an important platform for sharing ideas with the public at large, Wylie said.
“A lot of them know that they are not going to be the next president, but they are bringing issues to the forefront, and sometimes just bringing an issue to the forefront resolves the problem,” Wylie said.
Some respondents also volunteered thoughts about the Democratic party that extended beyond the upcoming election.
“I think we are seeing the next two generations of Democratic leadership right now, starting to immerge. I think it is a very exciting time right now to be a Democrat and be proud of being a Democrat,” Wylie said.
“I’d like to see the Democratic Party come back and be more competitive in the heartland,” Raasch said.
“I find it an exciting time to live as a historian, a political scientist and a journalist,” Wylie said. “I think we have some tremendous challenges, but we’ve also got some tremendous opportunities.”
“I just hope that the general mass gets out to actually vote in the primaries,” Taylor said. “Too many people in this country have the ability to use their voice and don’t.”