Generational divide: Democrats’ 2020 field bares yawning age gap

Ray Buckley’s a baby boomer, but he thinks someone from the millennial or gen-x generations may become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.

Buckley -- the longtime chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party -- argued there's a number of declared or potential White House hopefuls “under the age of 50 who could very well win this nomination.”

If Buckley’s theory holds, it could spell trouble for 69-year-old Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren, who’s launched a presidential campaign, headlines the New Hampshire Democratic Party's fundraising dinner next month.

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Ditto 76-year-old former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s also 76, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s 77.

All three are seriously considering presidential runs. Their presence, and that of a slew of 30- and 40-somethings weighing or launching bids, speaks to a yawning age gap emerging in the Democratic field -- one that could force primary voters to choose between the party's old and new guards.

At 37, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is 40 years younger than Sanders. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke is 46 years old. California Sen. Kamala Harris is 54.

“I do believe that it’s time for new voices to step in,” said Buttigieg, also an Afghanistan War veteran, who last week launched a presidential exploratory committee. “We need a new generation of leadership right now.”

The yawning age gap emerging in the Democratic 2020 field could force primary voters to choose between the party's old and new guards. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is 37. Rep. Eric Swalwell is 38. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is 77.

The yawning age gap emerging in the Democratic 2020 field could force primary voters to choose between the party's old and new guards. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is 37. Rep. Eric Swalwell is 38. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is 77.

Pointing toward older politicians, Buttigieg told Fox News that “it’s not okay to stick a new generation with the bill for reckless fiscal policy or ignoring climate [change] or some of the other things that those in charge have done.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who’s a year older than Buttigieg, may join him in making a longshot bid for the White House.

The Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said “we can’t count on the same old leaders to solve the same old problems. I think if we want to get out of this rut, out of this gridlock, we’re going to need to rely on the next generation of leaders.”

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It’s a similar message from 44-year old Julian Castro, who recently declared his candidacy for president. The former San Antonio mayor who later served as Housing secretary under then-President Barack Obama told Fox News recently that he believes “that the next nominee is going to be someone of my generation.”

You’d expect such talk from the younger candidates and potential contenders in the fast-growing Democratic 2020 field.

But even Biden’s acknowledged that “age is a totally legitimate thing to raise.”

"I think it's totally appropriate for people to look at me and say if I were to run for office again, 'Well God darn you're old.' Well, chronologically I am old. … Every voter is entitled to know exactly what kind of shape you're in. You owe it to them. It's a legitimate question and so I think age is relevant," the former vice president said in October.

New Hampshire primary veteran and Concord-based attorney Terry Shumaker joins Buckley in saying he “wouldn’t bet against the next nominee being under 55 and being somebody that we’re not even talking about right now.”

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Shumaker, a former ambassador to Trinidad who co-chaired Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign in New Hampshire and remains a close friend and adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, pointed to the 1992 election, which was won by the then 46-year-old candidate.

“Everybody was talking about [Mario] Cuomo and [Bill] Bradley and [Al] Gore and Biden,” he said. “And we ended up, of course, with a practically unknown governor from Arkansas, who went on to defeat the president, and nobody predicted that. … I think we’re in a similar situation right now.”

Jim Demers, a prominent Democratic strategist and lobbyist in New Hampshire who helped steer then-47-year old presidential candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire, is doing the same thing this time around for likely White House contender Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“One of the reasons why I’m supporting Cory Booker is I believe the Democrats' best chance for winning is to put forward its next generation of leadership and Cory Booker is one of those candidates,” Demers said. “And I think a lot of people feel like change means not only change in how government is run but change in who is going to run government, and people are looking for new blood.”

But Mo Elleithee, the founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and a Fox News contributor, argued it’s less about age and more about finding the candidate that can beat President Trump in 2020.

“There is some energy certainly around an elevation of younger voices in the party and we saw that around some of the folks who won in the midterms,” he pointed out.

But he added that “having said that, I’m not sure how many primary voters are going to make their ultimate decision based on a candidate’s age. I think it’s a good thing to have some new voices elevated, but I also think what ultimately people are looking for are the ability to beat Donald Trump.”

Elleithee, a senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who later served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee, added that “there’s going to be a lot of obvious attention paid to the generational divide … but the next Democratic Party nominee is going to be the person who can demonstrate that they are a champion for people who feel left behind and that they’ve demonstrated that they can beat Donald Trump.”

Trump is 72. And the top two leaders in Congress are also in their 70's -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 78, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 76.

Isaac Epstein’s a 20-something Democratic activist. The president of the newly formed Tri-City New Hampshire Young Democrats admitted that having his party’s next presidential nominee be in their 30’s or 40’s “would be very exciting.”

Pointing to past nominees who won the White House, Epstein said, “John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were able to inspire people in a way that some older candidates weren’t able to.”

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But he added that what’s “most important is that whoever’s the nominee support issues that are important to young people like paid medical and family leave, like reducing the extraordinary costs of education in this country, supporting voting rights, supporting the LGBTQ+ community.”

And Epstein acknowledged that “we’re more interested in getting rid of this current administration than having a nominee under age 50.”

Eighty-year-old state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, who’s long played an influential role in the New Hampshire primary, isn’t sold on the likelihood of a generational shift at the top of the 2020 ticket.

“I don’t think you put an age on it,” D’Allesandro said. “We’re looking for somebody we can trust and who can lead us. Period.”