MH Observer: Finding out Where Presidential Hopefuls Stand Made Easier and Better

Special to the Gazette

For voters working on deciding who to support in the primary on March 3 there’s some good news. The crowded Democratic field has gone from 24 good prospects in mid-May to 19 good prospects now. I hope none of the eight who already dropped out from the top number of 27 will be badly missed.

Also good: Everybody who’s still running would make a better president than the incumbent, and polls looking at the top Democrats show they could all pretty easily beat incumbent President Donald Trump if the election were held now. Three Republicans have announced they are challenging Trump at this time.

Our election season is too long. Events the past month illustrate one reason why. Major changes can affect early decisions months before the primary and more than a year before the final vote.

Just since Sept. 29, an official impeachment inquiry has been opened in the House of Representatives into President Donald Trump. One of the lead Democratic candidates’ and his son’s names, Joe and Hunter Biden, were brought up as part of alleged international impeachable activities carried out by the president and various underlings. And another one of the top Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders, had a heart attack and briefly suspended his campaign.

Many more things could transpire to affect the primary and final elections, including Trump’s impeachment or, less likely, removal from office. All the more reason, with the primary about four months away, voters should start settling on a small group of candidates they favor.

 But voters shouldn’t choose a one-and-only. Things change, and loyalties need to be broad in case the person they vote for in March is not on the ballot next November.

Policy positions candidates take are important to know. But finding out what candidates think on a range of subjects is not as easy as it could be. The four Democratic debates so far were lengthy. Candidates have been good at showing a united front against Trump. But the debates haven’t been as thorough as some might have liked.

Other good news this fall is that by now all 12 of the Democratic candidates who qualified for the October debate  have their policy positions on their websites: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. As of Oct. 20, only eight contenders had qualified for the Nov. 20 debate

Unfortunately, their policy positions can be hard to find on the sites. The word “Donate” dominates all of them. Policy positions hiding in the shadows may be found by scrolling down, clicking on the header on the page, or even going to a different website. Have faith; they’re there somewhere and in the candidates’ own words.

On a few easier candidate sites, there are traditional tabs at the top. The issues tabs may be labelled: “issues” or “story,” “about,” “meet,” “priorities,” and, in one case, “Our America.” Just to add to the confusion, most of the candidates also post their biography, which might also be labelled “meet” or “story” for some candidates. Figuring it out is worth it.

 Voters will be able to tell two important things right away from those sections of the websites: what subjects the candidate cares about and what their opinions, and sometimes their voting histories, are with those issues.

Relying on paid political pundits and commentators in media for information and opinion on the candidates is not the best idea. Good pundits can be great for flavor but not for a full presentation of facts. Although rules of journalism say these opinionated writers and speakers are supposed to use accurate facts, they don’t have to balance their writing, make sure to include things that don’t support their views, or give other “sides” necessarily.

Right now, reflecting this country’s incredible focus on the executive branch of government, it seems as if there are thousands of commentators on presidential politics. They may be staff, freelancers or paid outside “experts” or self-described volunteer pundits on TV, in print, on the internet, or in social media. Voters need to take their opinions, even if they seem to basically agree with them, with giant grains of salt.

To do that often necessitates looking up commentators’ biographies and looking up the publications and websites themselves that provide them platforms. Sometimes voters have to check facts or look for more up-to-date information. It’s good to be aware that presidential punditry is a competitive field itself, and practitioners—always looking for a marketable idea—may come up with some obscure, sensational or nitpicking angles on candidates and elections.

 Several commercial media websites offer information about each and all of the candidates—Democrats and Republicans—in one place. It’s always good to check when they were last updated. The top of the page usually has the “as of” date. The cutesy ones might be fun, but they’re not very useful.

The New York Times “politics” section, called “Who’s Running for President in 2020?” has brief blurbs on each candidate, and for frontrunners there are also “candidate profile pages” to click on.

The Boston Globe has the same graphics and header as the Times (?), puts a little about the candidates, and can sort them by groups: New Englanders, women, etc. details all the candidates and dozens of stands, documenting how people voted or expressed their policies. There is even a quiz where voters can see which candidate best matches their opinions.

The Atlantic has a presidential race section that is very light, saying of Warren, for example, “She’s got a good doggo,” and linking to a photo.

Politico has a fantastic presidential election information section on its website (“2020-election”) devoted to giving the latest, most thorough information on presidential candidates and issues, polls, endorsements, and money.

Issues on Politico can be searched by candidate, issue or category. And the site makes comparing candidates’ opinions easy, too. (To see candidates’ fundraising policies, which can differ, see their individual websites.) I recommend this site.

The Republican primary will also be on March 3 here. One thing people would never know from following most election coverage: The majority of Massachusetts and national voters are “unenrolled” in either party. (Then come Democrats. Fewest are Republicans.) Unenrolled voters here can choose which party primary to vote in, vote, then switch back to unenrolled. Many people often do this, and unenrolled voters have a lot of say in primary outcomes in states like ours that have so-called “open” primaries.

Right now four Republicans are running for president, much as the incumbent and the Republican National Committee might not like it. Before the current brouhahas about Trump’s asking foreign leaders for help with his campaign and then suddenly pulling protective troops from northern Syria, the RNC voted to provide undivided support for the incumbent.

Republican parties in five states have already cancelled their primaries. Massachusetts has not. As of now, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld is running in that primary, as are Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Joe Walsh of Illinois.

Though some candidates try to dazzle voters with their celebrity or dramatic life stories, nothing beats policy proposals underlined by demonstrated good character for figuring out who to choose.             Credible, unbiased websites and other objective sources are the best way to learn about candidates. Local voters who do research into candidates’ views do themselves and their fellow voters as they prepare to color in the ovals in 2020.

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