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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Democrat longshot starts race early to take down Donald Trump

Maryland congressman John Delaney has already launched his bid for the Democrat nomination in 2020

Maryland Congressman John Delaney has already begun his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020.  AP
Maryland Congressman John Delaney has already begun his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020.  AP

The battle to challenge President Donald Trump in the United States is currently focused on the mid-term elections, where Democrats hope to regain control of the House of Representatives and Senate.

After that attention will turn to the Democratic nomination in 2020, where the party will select its challenger to President Trump in the presidential elections.

A raft of big names is being talked up, but so far only one candidate has formally entered the race: John Delaney, an almost unknown Maryland congressman who believes he could be the man to take down Mr Trump.

Conventional wisdom would suggest he has little chance of winning the Democrat nomination, but conventional wisdom went out the window in 2016. At the start of the campaign, many thought the election would be contested by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Mrs Clinton nearly lost the nomination to Bernie Sanders, who stood as a socialist while Donald Trump, whose candidacy was regarded as a publicity stunt, swept away a raft of seasoned politicians.

The Trump presidency has proved to be as divisive as many feared. There is little doubt that Democrat voters who sat on their hands rather than back Mrs Clinton will turn out in force.

Mr Delaney is hoping that by entering the contest early, he will steal a march on his Democratic rivals.

Should he, against the odds, win the nomination, Mr Delaney is betting that by 2020 voters will have tired of the constant confrontation and will be looking for a measure of calm in the White House.

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His strength is a persuasive backstory. The son of an electrician, his college education was funded by a trade union scholarship and he went on to form two successful businesses.

He was the youngest ever executive on the New York Stock Exchange and he has made enough money to fund the early stages of the campaign from his own pocket.

Mr Delaney, 55, is an unapologetic moderate who believes that only a president with bipartisan support will be able to get things done.

The Obama administration was constantly thwarted by a Republican-controlled Congress. Washington gridlock prevented him closing Guantanamo Bay and appointing Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Mr Trump has found that having his own party in control of Congress is no guarantee of legislative success – as his attempts to repeal Obamacare have demonstrated.

The big question is whether his moderation will create problems with Democrat activists, who show every sign of having moved left since the last presidential election.

But Mr Delaney disagrees. “All the things I am trying to do are consistent with Democratic values. What I am trying to do is build a coalition of people who see themselves as progressive.”

Speaking in New Hampshire over the weekend, he set out his policies in remarkable detail, from universal health coverage – which Americans could top up with private health insurance – to a vast investment in education.

His policies would probably be shared by any Democratic candidate, although the left would probably go further on health care with the taxpayer picking up a larger proportion of the cost.

Mr Delaney’s tactics are simple. He has launched a pre-emptive strike for the nomination, hoping that he can build up enough momentum in the early stages of the race to become a major player.

The best analogy for the race for a party’s nomination is a horse race like the Grand National, where a massive field often gets whittled down very swiftly.

He is hoping to negotiate the first few fences – in this case, the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus while more celebrated rivals falter.

A poor showing in the early races often proves fatal, in 1968 Lyndon Johnson pulled out of the contest after faring badly in the first couple of contests. Conversely, Donald Trump’s success in New Hampshire enabled him to set a pace which left his rivals trailing in his wake.

This is why Mr Delaney declared his candidacy back in September 2017, a matter of months into the Trump presidency.

He began by turning up at the homes of Democrat activists in New Hampshire, which will hold the “first-in-the-nation primary” in 2020. Over this past weekend, he made his eleventh visit to the Granite State.

Mr Delaney also has been to Iowa 15 times and a recent poll showed that his name was recognised by 79 per cent of voters there.

He has already bought air time in Iowa and even took out a slot during the 2018 Super Bowl, the biggest event in the American sporting calendar which is watched by around a third of the US population.

It would be easy to write off Mr Delaney’s chances, but he is using a template which worked for Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

Then an obscure governor and peanut farmer, Mr Carter started his campaign by introducing himself to New Hampshire voters one by one and ended up in the White House.

The lessons have not been lost on Mr Delaney. “You have to say what you are going to do and how are you are going to get things done,” he said.

As far as the bookies are concerned, Mr Delaney is a rank outsider. The favourite for the nomination – at least at the moment – appears to be the junior senator for California, Kamala Harris, 53.

One online bookmaker rates her chances as 9/2, which is pretty impressive as she only entered the Senate in 2016.

She has made waves during the Senate hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court hearings and appears to tick a lot of the progressive boxes at a time when the insurgent wing of the party seems to be gaining in influence.

While many observers still think that 2020 could be the last hurrah for either Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden – both ageing but high profile former Democrat contenders – there is a growing belief that the party has to present a fresh face to challenge Donald Trump.

In common with a raft of other fancied runners, Ms Harris is “refusing to rule out” seeking the nomination.

One or two – such as Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas who served as Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Barack Obama – have even gone so far as to admit they are testing public opinion as they venture up to New Hampshire.

Some more esoteric names are also being floated including Michael Avenatti, the abrasive lawyer who has built a public profile by acting on behalf of the adult actress Stormy Daniels, who says she once had an affair with President Trump.

The picture will become a lot clearer after the mid-terms when the trickle of White House aspirants into New Hampshire and Iowa becomes a steady flow.

There could be at least a dozen Democrats in the early stages of the race, possibly more. In 2016 there were 17 Republicans at the start of the primary season.

Big names will have the advantage of celebrity and recognition, but John Delaney has boots on the ground already.

He may be a long shot, but so was President Trump.