As winter turns to spring, both the weather and the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary are heating up. Whether it be Whig-Clio debates, Princeton College Democrats meetings, or The Daily Princetonian pieces, it feels as if the campus gaze has skipped right past 2019 and into the heart of the primaries and caucuses that await us next year.
On one hand, this makes perfect sense. For us Democrats, focusing on the 2020 primary allows for an escapism of sorts — we can forget who the current occupant of the White House is and instead imagine President Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg behind the Resolute Desk. In our daydreams, we do not fear the prospect of a president locking up children at the border, but rather indulge fantasies of the adoption of universal health care or gun control. We focus on the minute policy differences between a variety of altogether-not-that-actually-different platforms, as opposed to focusing on the cruelty of Trump’s budget or White Nationalist politics.
There are obvious pitfalls that come as a result of dwelling in these dreams for too long: we lose perspective, we fail to adequately combat the current Republican agenda, and we ignore the hard work that lies before us. Beyond these considerations, there is another pressing oversight that all the 2020 talk seems to ignore: there are other important elections happening this year.
For all of the attention granted to a Democratic Primary that won’t be complete until 15 months from now, Kentucky’s gubernatorial primary is less than two months away and is flying under the radar. And while Kentucky is a conservative state, Democrats have historically done well in gubernatorial elections — there have only been two Republican Governors in the last 50 years — and the current governor, Matt Bevin, is especially unpopular. Mississippi and Louisiana, as well, have gubernatorial primaries this summer and elections this fall. Incumbent Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is leading in the polls, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is the strongest candidate Democrats have run in over a decade. Democrats will be competitive in all three of these elections.
The Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial primary is especially instructive (ignore my home state bias) in how Democrats plan to compete in red states in the years to come. Each of the three candidates running offers a unique approach. State Representative Rocky Adkins offers the most traditional one: social conservatism, paired with a folksy demeanor and an emphasis on bread and butter issues like pensions and education. Former State Auditor Adam Edelen, on the other hand, openly rejects what he deems the “stale incrementalism and nostalgia” of Kentucky’s past, and campaigns on an openly “progressive” platform. Lastly, Attorney General Andy Beshear, son of former Governor Steve Beshear (2007–2015), is running for governor, offering a mix of legacy politics and the very incrementalism that Edelen rejects. They are all formidable candidates in what is likely to be the fiercest Democratic primary of 2019.
The blessing and the curse of the Tenth Amendment is that the states are endowed with an immense amount of power. Issues ranging from education to criminal justice reform all run through state legislatures, governors’ mansions, and city halls. Our obsession with national politics too often makes us blind to the importance of statewide and local elections.
Even if you cannot get excited about Kentucky, Louisiana, or Mississippi, our adopted home state of New Jersey is holding State Assembly elections for all 80 seats in November. Our own district, New Jersey General Assembly’s 16th, is likely to be competitive. And in Virginia, this fall, Democrats are likely to achieve the first progressive majority since, arguably, the Readjusters in the late 19th century. Major cities like Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia are electing mayors in 2019. And there are hundreds of District Attorneys running for office. These elections matter and will impact the daily lives of millions of Americans long before any hypothetical presidential inauguration in 2021.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The 2020 Presidential Democratic Primary is exciting, but we cannot afford for it to distract us from the elections happening this year. Let’s give 2019 the attention it deserves.
Zachariah Sippy is a first-year from Lexington, Ky. He can be reached at email@example.com.