Democrats can’t afford to let primary fight divide the party

Democratic voters in Iowa will caucus next week, becoming the first to weigh in on who should be the nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that only experienced and wise political columnists know.

Michael Bloomberg can beat Trump.

So can Bernie Sanders. And Joe Biden.

Pete Buttigieg? You bet. Elizabeth Warren, of course.

Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet. Amy Klobuchar, absolutely. I’ll even throw Deval Patrick in there even though he hasn’t caught much traction so far.

They could all win in November. They could also all lose.

Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, stand on stage before a Jan. 14 Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Democratic voters care about a lot of issues, with health care generally right at the top. They care about climate change and inequality, too.

But what they care about most is beating Trump.

And the hardcore supporters of every Democratic candidate believe — down deep — that their candidate has the secret sauce to get the job done.

Sanders will excite voters, particularly younger ones, who Democrats can’t afford to lose on Election Day. Warren, she has a plan for everything, and my experience with Democratic primary voters is that they expect their candidates to have an answer to every question.

If you want to understand the power of money to move public opinion, Bloomberg is a case study. He’s running a completely different kind of national campaign for the nomination. So far, he’s spent about $250 million and moved very quickly from zero to fourth place in some national polls.

Buttigieg has a resume that can’t be beat (for the record, so did Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who I wish were still in the race). Klobuchar has never lost an election and has a track record of getting things done in the Senate.

On what planet is someone with the credentials and experience of Bennet not near the top of the leader board.

Steyer, so sincere and putting a sharp focus on climate change, is putting his money where his mouth is.

And Yang. I’ve overlooked Yang until recently. But he’s surged back at least enough to make the next Democratic debate. (And true confession, when I took the Washington Post quiz on whose positions I agree with, Yang came in first.)

Biden continues to lead in national polls and his support among African American voters, particularly in South Carolina, is strong and durable.

Every one of the candidates offers strengths — and weaknesses. And I would urge every Democrat to be skeptical of any of them who says that they, alone, can defeat Trump.

Based simply on some standard economic measures, the re-election of Trump — despite all of his lies, his obstruction, his impeachment, his conflicts of interests, his hatefulness and misdeeds — is very possible.

As voters finally begin to get their chance to weigh in on the Democratic nominees, the campaigns are getting sharper and trying to distinguish themselves from one another. They have to do that. They have to make their strongest case and expose the weaknesses of the others vying for the nomination.

But here’s what doesn’t have to happen. Democrats don’t have to let the temporary fights that are natural during the primary impact our behavior as we move toward the general election in November.

Fight for the nomination. Give it your all. Go to the wall for your candidates. But once the dust has settled, you have to come home if we’re going to have any chance of defeating Trump this fall.

Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are not as progressive as Sanders and Warren on some issues. But they would be more progressive — in areas like health care — than any president ever elected.

Sanders and Warren might not have electoral experiences outside the liberal concave of New England, but they have shown that they can build national organizations and appeal to voters all across the country.

And, yes, Bloomberg and Steyer are rich. They have a lot of money and that might make some Democrats suspicious. But they are using that money in the cause of putting America back on the right track.

Fight hard for your candidate. Tell your truth about why you support who you support. But our country simply cannot afford Democrats turning into “Never Bidens” or “Never-Bernies” or “Never-whoevers.” Too much is at stake.

I have my favorite candidate — and candidates. But when it comes to November 2020, I’d vote for a ham sandwich if it meant a new president.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at