My Current 2020 Democratic Candidate Ranking


As I do my own research into the candidates, I’m going to keep a ranking for my own purposes of where candidates fall. The ranking won’t be totally accurate or fair, because a.) I’m still learning about many of the candidates, and b.) at some point in the list, they all just become the same level of “no”.

Updated 04/14/19

Farewell, sweet boy.

JJ_2015I have been preparing myself for this moment for just about a year, when the tiny lump on JJ’s hip was diagnosed as cancer. The vet told me he might only have a few weeks, and he went on to spend another 53 weeks with me.  I have never been so acutely aware of my gratitude for the gift of time.

Our “meet cute”

In February of 2005, I was living outside of Minneapolis.  Eight months earlier, I had moved 1000 miles across the country to take a job that was now finally starting to let up in intensity.  I decided it was time to look at adopting a cat.  I drove up to Maple Grove – about 30 minutes north of where I lived – because I liked the Super Target up there and I knew there was a Pet Smart nearby.  I would just look.  I would take my time making a decision.  After all, this cat that I adopted at the age of 27 would be with me through much of my formative adulthood.

I walked into the cat adoption enclosure at PetSmart and I immediately heard a very loud, “MMMRRROOOWWW”.  (This was not a simple “Meow”.)  The big brown & grey tabby cat from which the sound emerged was just standing up in his cage looking me straight in the eyes.  His green eyes were amazing – and he didn’t seem angry or sad or excited.  He just demanded attention.  The name tag on the cage told me that the cat was named Jason.  (My closest friend at the time was also named Jason, and it felt like a little bit of fate intervening.)

The employee asked if I wanted to meet any of the cats, and I asked about Jason.  She told me that he was the last of four identical brothers, 10 months old, and ready for immediate adoption.  She opened the cage and before I could even reach in to pet him, he crawled up on my shoulder and made himself at home.  It was, I thought, definitely fate.  I renamed him JJ, because a cat named Jason was weird.  A few weeks later, my friend Joe stopped by my apartment to pick something up, and upon entering the apartment, JJ immediately crawled from the countertop to Joe’s shoulder.  Turns out that is just a thing he did.  I wasn’t exactly as special as I thought.

Two weeks after adopting JJ, I adopted a tiny 6 month old kitten named Dulcie, who became Ava.  Ava was – from the very first day – JJ’s cat.  She tolerated me – and sometimes even liked me – but she loved JJ.

A lot of miles, moves, and milestones

jj2016_2.jpgJJ and Ava have been with me through five moves, including the 1000 miles back home to PA less than a year after I adopted them.  They were with me when I bought my first house.  They adapted to a full house when my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and two dogs moved in with us for a few months.  Ava spent most of her life hiding, but JJ just held his ground with toddlers and dogs alike.

JJme2017For the past 14 years, JJ slept beside me virtually every night – most recently sleeping on my shoulder and up against my face until he thought I was asleep, and then getting down to sleep in his own bed in the corner of the room.  He was a terrible nursemaid when I was sick, because he thought that sleeping on my chest or face could fix whatever ailed me; but I almost always let him do it anyway.  In the 14 years that we had together, we both changed a lot.  We both settled down.  We both slowed down.  We both got a bit bigger.

He was my Instragram inspiration, my beloved pet, and my very best friend.

I have been preparing for this moment for a year, but I am not prepared.

jjme2019.pngAnd so I have been preparing to let him go for the past year.  Every time he started to get on my nerves by being too clingy, for meowing too loudly, or for waking me up in the middle of the night, I reminded myself that I didn’t have forever with him.  I genuinely cherished each moment in a way that I wished I had been able to do with people in my life over the years.

And so today I said goodbye to my sweet boy.  JJ.  Jay-gers.  Jayge.  I’ve had so many pets before him, and I will have many more come.  But no one will take his place.

Beto O’Rourke: Sure.

orourkeMy opinion on Beto O’Rourke is less than fully informed, but not from lack of trying.  And that might be the biggest problem that I have with O’Rourke’s candidacy right now.  I’ve done a lot of reading, but other than learning that O’Rourke is generally a moderate Democrat who was a teenage hacker in a punk band – I’m not sure I know who he is.

O’Rourke hasn’t done a lot of media yet for the 2020 campaign, and so there is still a lot of opportunity for him to energize me with a great message.  I have no reason to dislike him, and I’m certainly not opposed to a President who is a charismatic, moderate Democrat.  I just am not really taken in by the initial “rockstar” persona – I want to know that he’s crazy smart, articulate, and thoughtful.  I don’t know that just yet.

There are a number of positives from the O’Rourke campaign.

There are a few things that I found that I do like:

  • O’Rourke specifically calls for investment in stabilizing Central America, acknowledging that any “crisis” of immigration through the Mexican border can’t be solved by a wall, but can be mitigated by helping to stabilize the region so that people do not need to flee their homes.
  • He also calls on investment into security at our ports of entry, again as opposed to a pointless wall.
  • O’Rourke and Buttigieg are in the same place on healthcare, from what I can tell. Allow anyone to enroll in Medicare if they want it and continue to allow for private insurance.  O’Rourke does not specifically call out the need to address the lack of efficiency and overhead that makes the cost of healthcare so high, but that may just be because it isn’t particularly interesting and unless you are a geek like I am, that probably doesn’t win votes.
  • I also really like that he addresses criminal justice reform pretty directly – not only advocating for legalizing marijuana (which is by now pretty mainstream) and expunging the criminal history of anyone who has been prosecuted for possession, but he also goes further and talks about the need to end cash bail and for-profit prisons.

But there are a few negatives to note, as well.  

  • The more significant issue may be around big oil. It’s likely difficult for a Texan to get out from under the oil industry, and while it seems that O’Rourke is trying – he may not be succeeding.  He signed a pledge to not take money from the fossil fuel industry, but seems to have specifically left out language in the version of the pledge that he signed that would also pledge to not take money from executives within the fossil fuel industry.  This seems to be a big misstep for him – not necessarily because he might be accepting money from big oil execs (although there is reason for alarm there), but because it certainly comes across as disingenuous to sign a pledge in which you’ve changed the language to give yourself an out.

Overall, I’m okay with O’Rourke for President – but I’m not yet inspired.  If he won the nomination, I could enthusiastically support him as the Democratic candidate, but he’s definitely not my top pick.  Do you disagree?  Is O’Rourke your guy?  What am I missing?

I – disease.

This blog post picks on Senator Gillibrand, but only as an example of a bad habit that so many political candidates can’t seem to shake.  There happens to be a perfect (and current) visual example in Gillibrand, but so many campaigns suffer from a similar disease.

Here are some screenshots of a video that Senator Gillibrand posted on her Instagram account earlier today:

I did remove a few frames from the video, but all but one sentence had “I” as the sentence subject.  And that’s…for lack of a better word, obnoxious.

“I” is just a word – and at this point in the primary campaign, voters really do want to know what any given candidate has accomplished, what they stand for, and what vision they have for the future.  But when you start every answer with “I”, you risk alienating voters when they can’t relate what you have to say to how it will impact them.  (Also, it comes across as hella arrogant, because no politician has accomplished anything without their advisors and staff.)

So, Senator Gillibrand, let me try to rephrase for you – and I’ll see if I can save you from I-disease:

“In my Senate re-election campaign, the voters of New York returned me to my seat with a historically high 72% of the vote.  As a politically diverse state, this speaks to the way in which we’ve been able to bring together the blue parts, the red parts, and the purple parts onto common ground.  That same ability that allowed us to bring people together in the state of New York  is also apparent in my track record of coming together with my fellow Senators, Democrats and Republicans, to pass big pieces of legislation.  We identify the problem, we find common sense solutions, and we get things done with bi-partisan support.”


Jay Inslee – King of the Dad Joke

These might start to get shorter, because I’m getting really tired of listening to a whole lot of blah blah blah. I’ve also found myself being a little less charitable. I’m finding it hard to be sorry about that.

Here’s the thing: Inslee seems like a smart guy. He seems to generally have the same priorities as the other candidates – although his focus is climate first, everything else later. (That’s not a negative, in my opinion.) As far as I can tell, there are no major scandals in his past. And he admitted in his CNN Town Hall that he had never really thought about a particular topic and didn’t have an informed answer.

If Joe Biden and Al Gore had a really boring baby

He’s a back-slapping, jokey-jokey guy who is affable, and not at all interesting. Like a cross between Joe Biden and Al Gore. Less creepy than Biden, less intelligent than Gore, but boring as hell and trying to be funny. I have literally zero interest in learning more about him.

Is there something worth finding that I should know about? Can anyone give me a reason to care?T

Tulsi Gabbard – Evasive AF

My write-up on Tulsi Gabbard will be pretty short, because even after listening to her talk, I’m not sure what she’s all about. (I’m basing this on a few articles and a few recent interviews – including her CNN Town Hall.)

At this point in the race, most of the candidates believe in essentially the same stuff – so policy differences are minor and not really all that interesting yet. What I’m looking for right now is someone who seems to a.) understand why they are running for President, b.) be really well-versed on the big issues facing the country and the world, and c.) be intelligent, curious and humble enough to work with the right people to get to the right answers.

Tulsi Gabbard is not that.

In the CNN Town Hall, Representative Gabbard evaded a straight answer on almost every question. She talked about the concept of the question, without actually answering the question. It was really difficult to listen to.

I thought that she’s done an okay job explaining why and how she’s evolved on LGBT issues. I don’t really hold that against her. Her meeting with Assad of Syria in 2017 without any coordination with the State Department is a different story. That she still doesn’t believe she did anything wrong is troubling, and essentially ruled out Gabbard as a candidate for me awhile ago.

As always, please feel free to tell me what you think. Am I missing an angle? Did I misjudge or misinterpret?

Amy Klobuchar – I want to want to back her

So far, I’ve been able to form a pretty solid opinion on the candidates that I’ve taken the time to get to know. Senator Amy Klobuchar remains a bit of a wild card for me.

I want to get behind her really straight forward approach. Like Buttigieg, who is almost certainly my candidate until he’s either out of the race or in the White House, Klobuchar is pragmatic and down to earth in the way that she presents ideas. She won’t say that she’s for something when she isn’t, and she explains why some popular ideas might not be as great as they seem on the surface. For the most part, she manages to do all of that without being condescending or defensive.

Where it gets weird for her, though, is when it starts to get into the rumors that she’s a bit of a monster to her staff. When the question was posed to her at the CNN Town Hall, the individual who asked gave her the perfect opportunity to turn it around. They mentioned the rumors, and then asked her if or what leadership qualities she thought she could improve. Instead of taking the opportunity to show humility, she got defensive. She admitted to being “tough” on her people, but then went on to point to the number of years some staff members have remained with her. Klobuchar never came back around to admit to any leadership quality that she could improve, and that moment might have been the moment she lost me.

In the end, I feel like she’d probably be a good President, but I don’t want her to be.

Honestly, my end evaluation of Senator Klobuchar is that she’d probably make a good President. I appreciate the way that she sees issues and policies from many sides, and seems to really understand the nuanced impacts of any decisions she makes. But her lack of humility and self-awareness (or honesty about her self-awareness) is a real issue for me.

I know that I have a few folks who have asked about Klobuchar – and I would love to hear alternative takes on her candidacy? Am I totally wrong about her? Is there another side that I need to understand?

Kirsten Gillibrand – I guess, maybe

I’ve gotten way behind on posting my thoughts on the candidates – and if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, it’s probably clear that I’ve essentially settled on my Buttigieg as my frontrunner. But I do still want to be fair to the others and try to explain why I’ve landed where I’ve landed.

I might have been a little wrong about Gillibrand

One of the things that I like about Senator Gillibrand is that she’s willing to admit when she’s been wrong in the past. In that spirit, I’m going to admit that I might have been wrong about her. I had written her off entirely based on one interview that I saw with her a few months ago, but after her CNN Town Hall I had a more balanced view of her.

As I noted above, I do like that Gillibrand is open to evolving her perspective on things, and is willing to admit that she’s been wrong in the past. At the same time, she admitted on a few issues that she evolved because she went from representing an Upstate New York district to representing the entire state, and she suddenly understood that the issues had other sides. I’m not sure that you should have to specifically represent a certain group of people before you attempt to understand the larger implications of your decisions.

I also felt like she could have been more authentic in the way that she represented herself. She seemed to “turn on” these fiery, passionate speeches at certain points in the town hall, as though she had someone tell her, “You need get really worked up about this”. It didn’t feel real.

I’m mostly just not interested.

I might be missing something in her candidacy, but there’s nothing about her that gets me excited for the future. I know it’s cliche, but a candidate needs to be able to do the job – and also needs to be able to energize people behind their message. I’m just not energized.