Who Might be the Breakout Star of the 2020 Democratic National Convention?
This past week the country got some of their political mojo back. Listening to former President Barack Obama give the keynote eulogy at the funeral of revered former Congressman and Civil Rights leader, John Lewis, we reveled in the opportunity to feel inspired by a political speech. In this time of continued stress even Spotify took notice and produced an album of all the speeches that were made that day.
For those that long for “the good ole days” when Obama occupied the White House, it felt like a homecoming of sorts. But before he was even candidate for President, the world was first introduced to Obama in 2004. It was that year that the fresh-faced Illinois State Senator, who was running for U.S. Senate, was selected to give the a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. When the Democratic Party officially nominated John Kerry as the party’s standard bearer, it was Obama’s speech that drew national attention. Obama discussed his unlikely selection for being on that stage, his upbringing as a Black man, the son of an immigrant, and product of a mixed-race couple. But what counted the most was his vision for a better America. It is still inspiring today.
That same keynote speech spot has vaulted lesser known politicians into the spotlight and turned them into household names. In 2008 when it was Obama’s turn to be nominated as the Democratic nominee for President, former First Lady and then Senator Hilary Clinton gave the keynote speech. As you may recall, she was the party’s nominee in 2016. During the 2012 DNC convention, then San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the keynote speech. He would go on to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama and run for President this cycle. In 2016, it was Senator Elizabeth Warren who gave the keynote speech. She was one of the final candidates in the running for President before dropping out earlier this year and her name is widely circulated as a potential Vice Presidential nominee.
Now with the run up to the 2020 Democratic National Convention (anchored in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but billed as a “Convention Across America”) we can look forward to finding out who the next darling of the Democratic Party may be. Here are a few individuals that I have my eye on:
Governor Phil Murphy (NJ)
The COVID-19 crisis has given new life to the political theory that governors make for great future presidential candidates. Governor Murphy has made his way into national headlines for his work on combating the COVID-19 crisis in his state.
A finance professional by trade, Murphy served as Ambassador to Germany from 2009–2013 under President Obama and is the current Chair of the Democratic Governors Association. He is also one of six Permanent Co-Chairs of the Convention.
Murphy’s policy proposals within New Jersey include the introduction of a state-level investment bank to help small business and college students, the legalization of marijuana, a $15 minimum wage, affordable housing, and his administration has mounted a legal challenge to combat school segregation. Keep an eye out for Murphy to play a big role in the convention and throughout the general election.
Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL)
Duckworth is a former Army Lieutenant Colonel where she was a helicopter pilot. During her service in the Iraq War she lost both of her legs from a rocket-propelled grenade attack. She also ticks off several first: the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, the first person born in Thailand elected to Congress, the first woman with a disability elected to Congress, the first female double amputee in the Senate, and the first senator to give birth while in office. All of her service has garnered her support from Veterans groups such as VoteVets.
Her policy proposals include combating climate change through maximum funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), putting full pressure on China through support of the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act, universal background checks and the halting of state-to-state gun trafficking, and comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally. Even if she is not selected as the VP, Duckworth has said she will do whatever needs to be done to get Joe Biden elected.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (GA)
Yet another named floated as a Vice Presidential Nominee, Mayor Lance Bottoms name has gained some national recognition as she has gone toe-to-toe with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp over Atlanta’s mask mandate. Lance Bottoms has plenty of skin in the game having been diagnosed with the virus herself. At the onset of the national protests following the death of George Floyd, she took part in a CNN / Sesame Street Town Hall that sought to teach young children about the horrors of racism.
Having served as Mayor of Atlanta since 2017, Lance Bottoms is a former prosecutor, judge and member of the Atlanta City Council. Under her tenure, she shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee center, hosted the NFL’s Super Bowl, and avoided the state’s attempted takeover of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the world.
As Mayor, her policy proposals include reforming the Atlanta Police Department’s use of force policy, better government transparency through the Georgia Public Records Act, and offering hazard pay for front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Look for Lance Bottoms to continue to be a force in turning the state of Georgia Blue.
Congresswoman Sharice Davids (KS)
A newcomer onto the national political stage, Congresswoman Davids was elected in the 2018 “Blue Wave” that gave control of the U.S. House of Representatives back to the Democrats. An attorney and former mixed martial artist, Davids represents Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers much of metro Kansas City. Raised by a single mother, who is a U.S. Army veteran, Davids is the first openly LGBT Native American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas, and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
Davids began her legal career at the law firm Dentons, and later directed community and economic development for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She also opened her own business, Hoka Coffee. In 2016, she worked as a White House Fellow in the Department of Transportation. In the 2018 election, Davids ran for the House gaining the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), defeating incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder, and becoming the first Democrat to represent Kansas’s 3rd District since 1963.
While in the House, Davids has was the only member of the Kansas delegation to vote to impeach President Donald Trump. She serves on the Small Business and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees and is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, the Congressional Native American Caucus, and the New Democrat Coalition. This newcomer has a lot of potential to elevate the voices of the LGBT and Native American populations for years to come.
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes (WI)
The hometown politician. The son of a public-school teacher and a United Auto Workers member, Lieutenant Governor Barnes was born and raised in Milwaukee. He is a former member of host-Mayor Tom Barrett’s staff and organizer for M.I.C.A.H., a Milwaukee-based interfaith social justice advocacy coalition. At the age of 25, Barnes was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly and served from 2013–2017. His tenure included serving as the Chair of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus. He also became a recognized leader on progressive economic policies and gun violence prevention legislation.
In 2018, Barnes was elected as the first African American Lieutenant Governor. Alongside Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers the two defeated incumbent Republican Scott Walker, a former GOP Presidential candidate.
His policy proposals include reducing carbon emissions. Following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, Barnes and 70 other U.S. elected leaders traveled to the Madrid Conference of Parties (COP) at the end of 2019 to show America’s continued commitment to combatting global climate change. Look for Barnes to have the opportunity to take center stage this year at the Convention’s “anchor” in Milwaukee.
While this year’s Democratic National Convention looks to be unlike any other we have had in recent memory, the opportunity to embrace a new figure within the Democratic Party remains. In addition to nominating former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, and prepare for the General Election against Donald Trump, we can also expect to be moved by a younger, fresh-faced politician, who in a decade will likely be a household name.