USC panel predicts diversity will be key for Democratic victory in 2020

The group of veteran political strategists agreed that the Democratic field will be wide, but that the ultimate candidate will need the mettle to unseat President Trump.

Dozens of USC students braved the rainy weather Tuesday night to hear a panel of political heavy hitters debate the current state of U.S. politics and predict what the future will hold for the 2020 presidential election.

The event was hosted by USC's Center for the Political Future, which was founded by veteran political strategists Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy. Shrum and Murphy were joined on stage by the center's 2019 spring fellows, Republican strategist Mike Madrid and CNN commentator Symone Sanders.

The panels' predictions? Democratic voters will be weighing two priorities when they vote in the 2020 primaries: a candidate who not only represents changing national demographics but also has the mettle to unseat President Trump.

Sanders, who served as press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential bid, said the new political landscape includes more women, diversity and increased partisanship.

"It mirrors a lot of things that are happening in pockets of communities and we're seeing it play out at the national level," she said. "Voices and spaces are being taken up by folks who traditionally haven't had the opportunity to be at the table or in the room."

Shifting racial demographics and increasing income inequality will also change politics and voting patterns, Madrid said.

"There are two major social changes that are redefining American politics," he said. "The first is the racial demographics of the country. The second is the extraordinary class divide that we are seeing in society as well."

But the focus of night quickly shifted to the 2020 presidential race. The first primary election will take place at the Iowa Caucus on Feb. 3, 2020 – more than a year away – yet, candidates have already begun forming exploratory committees and campaigning in the Hawkeye state. California voters will be keeping a close eye on who is leading in Iowa as they also begin sending in their early voting ballots that same day.

"I think this will be the first time in history women will be vying for the democratic party nomination," Sanders said, citing New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand after she announced her plan to run for president earlier on Tuesday.

Shrum agreed that at this early stage, the Democratic nomination could be anyone's race, but he considers former Vice President Joe Biden a top contender for the Democratic party, should he choose to run.

"I think there's an inchoate desire inside the Democratic party to move on, but there's also an inchoate regret about the fact that Biden wasn't the nominee in 2016 and those two things are competing with each other," he said.

Murphy, however, disagreed that Biden would be a successful candidate for the party.

"He's never really been a message candidate," he said. "He's been a demography candidate. He's going to say I can get non-college educated white men – the least interesting constituency, by instinct, in the Democratic party."

"Primary voters have plenty of time for exposure and to shop around and find what they're looking for," Murphy added. "I think that some of the younger candidates will have a better shot."

Despite those prognostications, Shrum's ultimate prediction was that the Democratic contenders who will win the most votes in the 2020 primaries  will be propelled less by ideology and more by "who can beat Trump."

"Donald Trump is the elephant in the room in the democratic process," Shrum said. "People are going to really care about defeating Trump. If a candidate looks like they're ideologically pure, but maybe couldn't defeat Trump they're going to have a lot of trouble."

The Center for the Political Future launched last fall with the mission to promote bipartisanship and "advance civil dialogue that transcends partisan division." This is the second semester they have hosted fellows to participate in political discussions and teach courses through the USC Dornsife political science department.