Listen to the hometown crowd when sizing up the Democrats running for president

Shouldn’t we care whether a candidate was good at their last job before we award them a new one?

SHARE Listen to the hometown crowd when sizing up the Democrats running for president
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, AP Photo/John Locher

With 24 Democrats running for president, there’s an unending inundation of polls, platforms, policies and platitudes to keep track of.

National polls tell one picture, but not the whole picture or even a useful one this early.

We learn a little through national press coverage — increasingly less about a candidate’s authenticity or policy proposals, and more about his or her ability to stay on message and not actually answer questions.

Opinion bug


Town halls on the major cable networks are a fuller glimpse into the candidate’s positions, and are a test of their stamina. And of course, the debates will pit them all against one another to see who has the best zingers and take-downs.

But as we try to measure them all against these varying backdrops, I have a better idea.

Why not judge them by those who know them best?

I don’t mean their families, although those testimonials can be revealing. And I don’t mean endorsements — those are often less about the candidates themselves and more about what it can buy the endorsers.

I mean the candidates’ hometown voters, their newspapers and the reporters who’ve covered them. Shouldn’t we care whether they were good at their last jobs before we award them a new one?

Sure, you and I are just getting to know Pete Buttigieg, for example, but what about the South Bend, Indiana, voters who’ve known him for years? Or conversely, we’ve all known Joe Biden for decades — what do Delawareans say about him, though?

By this metric, some would and should be immediately disqualified.

There might not be a more contentious relationship between a politician and his constituents than that of Bill de Blasio and New York City. He’s loathed both by voters — he’s underwater with 44% disapproval to 42% approval — and the press, the latter of which is likely a mutual feeling.

New York Magazine has made a cottage industry of mocking de Blasio’s run for president. Eve Peyser recently wrote a column with the following premise: “I Tried to Find a New Yorker Who Wants de Blasio to Be President. It Wasn’t Easy.” Another recent headline read: “Bill de Blasio Tries to Find Someone, Somewhere, Who Wants to Vote for Him.”

Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who’s seen a recent boost in her national polls, doesn’t have the best hometown report card either.

While she’s somewhat popular at home, two recent polls of Massachusetts Democratic primary voters — one by Emerson College and the other by Suffolk University/Boston Globe — ranked Warren as those voters’ third and second choice, respectively, for president behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

Her hometown paper, the Boston Globe, implored her not to run, the editorial board calling her “too divisive” and saying she’d missed her moment. That’s not what you want to hear.

What about Bernie Sanders’s relationship with Vermont voters? It’s complicated.

Vermont loves Bernie for consistently voting their interests on issues like guns and pot. But increasingly voters are second-guessing his economic agenda.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “enacting just a portion of the Sanders agenda has been a crushing failure for Vermont,” calling particular attention to the Tax Foundation’s rating of the state as one of the 10 worst business tax climates and an alarming flight of residents to neighboring states.

Delegate-rich California’s earlier primary makes it an important state in the Democratic primary, and Sen. Kamala Harris has some competition from Biden, Sanders and Warren in polls of likely Democratic primary voters in the state. But in good news, 40% of voters there say she’d make a good president, versus 38% who say she wouldn’t, according to Quinnipiac, and she enjoys a 53-32% approval rating among all voters.

As for the upstart Buttigieg, a We Ask America survey of 800 registered voters in Indiana found 35% have a favorable opinion and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Among Democrats, he does much better — 60% to 9%.

Former Newark Mayor and current Sen. Cory Booker may have the best hometown report card. Despite complaints that he spent too much time building his national platform, he left office with a 70% favorability rating among likely voters in Newark. Since becoming a senator and now presidential candidate, his approval has slipped to 48% among New Jersey residents recently polled by Monmouth University; he’s still above water, with 36% disapproval.

For Biden, it’s tougher to tell. He’s been a national figure for decades, and his last real job representing Delaware ended back in 2008. Of course the state loves its favorite son, and Delaware political leaders are largely lined up behind him, but Delaware Twitter — yes, that’s a thing — was more mixed on his presidential announcement.

For aspiring presidential candidates, local and state office is often just a springboard to national politics. But those stops can and should tell us a lot about them. If a candidate is despised back home, maybe that should be disqualifying.

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