Written by Maci Hill
Senators, business executives, doctors, governors, and even a former First Lady are just some of the candidates who make up this year’s wide, varied presidential playing field, all having different priorities and levels of experience in government. With such a multitude of candidates already vying for the White House so early on in the campaign season, choosing the best possible person to vote for can seem almost dizzying, especially for first-time voters, but it doesn’t have to be so complex. Here’s a quick rundown on who’s who, at least on the Democratic front.
The first of the five candidates is one we all know: Hillary Clinton. Hillary, unlike her husband, Bill, is a fairly liberal Democrat rather than a moderate one. She is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-universal healthcare, pro-gun control, pro-alternative energy, and pro-criminal justice reform. Even though her viewpoints on these key issues are certainly liberal enough for the increasingly leftist crowd of Democratic voters, Clinton’s critics argue that she is dishonest, untrustworthy, and pandering to gain voters. Public opinion of her has been arguably her biggest struggle throughout her candidacy, with only 61% of Americans saying she was “slightly” or “not at all” honest, according to an Associated Press-GfK survey.
Many attribute this feeling of untrustworthiness to an email scandal surrounding her, in which she deleted 33,000 emails from her private email server, arguably in violation of the law. However, amidst scandal and the running of the political rumor mill, Hillary Clinton remains the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
An independent senator from Vermont has been dubbed Hillary Clinton’s biggest challenger. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist who caucuses with Democrats, seems to gain the same amount that Hillary Clinton loses in the monthly polls. He holds many of the same liberal viewpoints as she does on topics like immigration, abortion, gay rights, energy reform, gun control, healthcare, and criminal justice reform — oh, and he wants to make tuition at public colleges free. To make some of his biggest ideas a reality, he would call for tax hikes on the richest Americans and large corporations. These tax increases would also help to combat income inequality, which Sanders touts as America’s greatest flaw. Though his poll numbers continue to climb, he faces some obstacles to beating out Hillary Clinton for the party nomination. Many people argue that his tax increases on the billionaire class are unfair and hamper their ability to help create jobs. Also, many Americans are turned off from voting for him because he is a socialist, which they associate with communism. Despite this, Bernie Sanders remains well-liked as he continues to gain momentum in this election — he is the only candidate in the running whose “favorable” rating is higher than his “unfavorable.”
The third candidate in the running is Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland. He also served as mayor of Baltimore. During his time as governor, he signed legislation that conditionally allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. He also proved himself as a supporter of gay marriage and gun control during his time as governor, passing legislation that allowed for both. Like Sanders and Clinton, O’Malley is pro-choice, pro-alternative energy, pro-expansion of Obamacare, and he wants to reform the criminal justice system, too. O’Malley has long been an opponent of capital punishment, having abolished the death penalty during his time as governor, and he recently released a detailed, sweeping criminal justice reform plan that would end it for good. If he were elected president, he would implement this plan. While the plan is appealing to activists who have been demanding criminal justice reform for years, he cannot win the presidency he needs to instate this plan without their vote, which he needs badly — he is lagging severely behind Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in national primary polls. He is also under fire for saying “all lives matter” at a rally after he was interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter activists, but he has since apologized.
Lincoln Chafee, the indecisive former U.S. Senator and governor of Rhode Island, has been in office as both a Republican and Independent, but is running for president this election as a Democrat. Like O’Malley, Chafee passed legislation during his time as governor permitting same-sex marriage and eradicating the death penalty. It could be argued that he has always leaned Democrat, at least on social issues, as well as some foreign policy and economic issues. While in the U.S. Senate as a Republican, he was the only one in his party to vote against authorizing military force to oust Saddam Hussein, also one of the only to support abortion rights, higher taxes on the wealthy, and a higher minimum wage. If elected president, he would pass common sense gun control laws, expand Obamacare, pursue alternative energy, and provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. However, his favorability ratings were very low as governor in his home state of Rhode Island just before he left office, so it is unlikely that he can depend on the people he once governed to get the much-needed votes to raise his very low chance of winning the Democratic party nomination.
The most recent Democratic candidate to enter the presidential race is Jim Webb, a former U.S. Senator from Virginia. He also served as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, which could be attributed to some of his more Republican stances on foreign policy and the military. He also does not side with some of his more liberal colleagues on key issues such as energy (he supports building the Keystone XL oil pipeline), healthcare (argues that Obamacare could have been “smaller”), taxes (favors cutting corporate taxes instead of raising them), the federal budget (wants to review all parts of the budget except the military in order to see what to cut), and gun control (Webb is an advocate for gun ownership and wants to rescind “restrictive” gun control laws in certain parts of D.C.). Despite some of his right-leaning stances on some key issues, he is true to his Democratic caucus when it comes to social issues (pro-choice and a supporter of gay marriage), immigration (supports a pathway to citizenship) and criminal justice reform (called attention to high incarceration rate, says American criminal justice system needs total reformation). While Jim Webb will appeal to more moderate Democrats, he lacks familiarity, and it shows in national primary polls — he trails almost all of his fellow Democratic candidates considerably.
Though the first primary election isn’t until next February, it’s not too early to start learning about each of the candidates and what they stand for. Many Americans, particularly the young people, choose to disengage themselves from politics because they think that they cannot do anything to change the way the nation is run, but it does. Better-educated voters make for leadership that will better suit the wants and needs of the American people, so read up and make sure to vote — the future of America is in the hands of its own people. Everyone’s vote counts, no matter their age.