In the last chapter, I suggested a presidential ticket that could decimate the Trump coalition, by offering a progressive vision, uniting Clinton and Sanders supporters, and project economic populism, public service, and self-sacrifice to peel away reluctant Trump voters. And that ticket was Elizabeth Warren and William McRaven.

elizabeth-warren.jpgwilliam mcraven

Of course, there is far more that goes in to an administration than who is on the presidential ticket. I explored this in greater depth in my series on ranking the presidents, but the best administrations sought out diverse points of view, hired competent and public service-minded individuals, and steered away from group-think. That is the kind of atmosphere I wanted to cultivate in selecting what a great cabinet might look like for this imaginary administration. I didn’t want any loudmouths, self-aggrandizers, and ideologues. I wanted problem solvers of proven excellence, individuals of deep learning and keen observation, and people who lived out an ethos of public service in their respective fields. So I picked out a cabinet from various walks of life- some worthy veterans of their respective departments, some businesspersons, the odd community activist, and a few public office-holders. I tried to avoid trend where people just list out a “fantasy cabinet” with a bunch of senators- like putting Bernie Sanders as Secretary of Treasury or Joe Biden as Secretary of State. Let’s instead consider the greater breadth and richness of American public life.

wendy sherman

Photo/Reba Saldanha Rapport Center distinguished lecturer and former Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Wendy Sherman speaks at Boston College Law School Monday November 9, 2015.

Secretary of State: There is a tendency here to choose a sexy, high-profile pick for Secretary of State to generate buzz and make the cabinet more prestigious via some household name. A lot of names I bandied about would have fit that profile- Caroline Kennedy, Russ Feingold, and yes, Joe Biden. But I ultimately landed on Wendy Sherman. One of the elements of the Obama presidency that intrigued me most was his ability to turn longtime pariah countries into the path of slowly, watchfully, becoming integrated back into the community of nations. She turned the probable failure of Iran negotiations into a qualified success, and is a committed policy wonk with a resolve of steel.

richard cordraySecretary of Treasury: My pick for this spot goes to Richard Cordray of Ohio. As the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cordray has a huge target on his back, and may very well be dismissed by President Trump by the time all is said and done. But so far in his tenure, Cordray has used the agency’s independence in suitably populist ways, going after predatory lenders and holding Wells Fargo accountable after it opened numerous fraudulent accounts, ultimately fining it $100 million.

Secretary of Defense: While Michele Flournoy is often seen as the presumptive nominee jack reedfor this spot in the next Democratic administration, I’m going to go against the grain. Looking at the number of think tank gurus and military figures in charge of what is ostensibly an agency that is supposed to be led by civilians, I am pulling for Jack Reed, the senator from Rhode Island. As I wrote in an earlier entry, I expect Reed to retire from the Senate in 2020, and once he does, he might reconsider his long reluctance to serve in a presidential cabinet. Given the disaster of think-tankers in the Bush years, and the problematic elements of having so many career military men in the Trump administration, I think it important to return leadership of the Pentagon to civilian- indeed, congressional- oversight. With Reed, you get a 20+ year veteran of the Senate, a former West Point cadet and West Point instructor, and someone who voted against the Iraq War. That’s a pretty amazing meeting of competence, experience, and good judgment.

brian sandovalAttorney General: There was the old Sesame Street jingle, “one of these things just doesn’t belong,” and the Department of Justice is the odd man out in the cabinet. Unlike the other departments, it needs to confront- and if necessary, defy- the president. One critique, common in the last twenty-five years regardless of who was in power, was of collusion between the attorney general’s office and the West Wing. I don’t think that’s an unfair concern. For that reason, I have an unconventional choice. Most incoming cabinets (Mr. Trump excepted) have at least one member of the opposition party- and here’s mine. I suggest Nevada governor Brian Sandoval. Sandoval is by far the best of the Republican governors- and possibly the best governor in any state regardless of party. Almost alone of the GOP governors, he resisted the bandwagon to reject incoming refugees from Syria, he wasn’t opposed to a modest tax increase, and he has experience as a judge and state attorney general that lends itself well to serving as the head of the Justice Department. You can trust this guy to strong, prescient, and fair-minded.

christy goldfussInterior: Christy Goldfuss isn’t the most well-known name on this list, but she’d be a fine choice to head one of the most important of all departments, concerned as it is with preserving our country’s natural resources and beautiful landscape.  In an age suspicious of Washington insiders, Goldfuss effuses a Leslie Knope-like love of public service, and she’s incredibly skilled at communicating in small events and in social media. She’s served as Obama’s Deputy Director of National Parks, and chaired the Council on Environmental Quality. There is a tendency to appoint a random western governor or congressman to this position; I seriously considered Brian Schweitzer or John Hickenlooper for this job. A native of Connecticut, Goldfuss- as far as I can tell- would be the first east-coaster in decades to hold this position, but I don’t think that’s in any sense a disqualification.

Agriculture: Similarly, there is a tendency to default to a congressman or governor from david beckmannthe prairie states for the D.A. Instead, I remembered the Eisenhower administration, and how he brought on talent from church-related organizations who could thrive in a government that shouldn’t play favorites among religions. Dulles, you might remember, was heavily involved in the National Council of Churches before becoming Secretary of State. In this vein, I’d love for Rev. David Beckmann to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. For the last 25 years, Beckmann has served as president of Bread for the World, raising awareness, producing scholarship, and coordinating interfaith efforts to combat global and domestic hunger. A Lutheran pastor who is also a trained economist, Beckmann understands the nuances of the Agriculture Department’s most fundamental charge: make sure hungry people get enough to eat. Part lobby, part charity, Beckmann has been at the forefront of successful efforts to get Congress to increase its spending on development assistance. In terms of getting food to people who need it, Beckmann is one of the sharpest, most effective thinkers and administrators one can imagine. We’ll need him after the massive cuts to domestic and international humanitarian programs under the Trump budget.

ursula burnsCommerce: Look, as a general rule, we’re not going to revive American manufacturing to its 1950s pinnacle. We need a head of the Commerce Department who understands that, and can serve as an effective liaison to the business world. I’d love for them to be partners rather than antagonists in an effort to create a more socially just America. I considered former Pennsylvania governor Mark Schweiker, civic leader and plastics magnate Noel Ginsburg, and real estate guy R. Donahue Peebles. But I ultimately landed on Xerox CEO Ursula Burns. She’s the embodiment of the American Dream, having worked her way up in Xerox from a lowly intern to become the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company. She turned the company around from ruin, going from machine manufacturing to information and document processing. Burns is direct, tough, and realistic- a good fit for Commerce.

Jobs with Justice National Conference

Jobs with Justice National Conference, Day 2 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Aug. 6, 2011 © Rick Reinhard 2011

Labor: Ai-Jen Poo would be amazing in this job. For years, she has mobilized domestic workers and caregivers, most recently serving as leader of Domestic Workers United. (Many domestic workers are exempt from state and federal labor laws, allowing them to overworked, underpaid, and vulnerable to harassment.) She has been a consistent voice for humane immigration policies, workers’ rights, and just as importantly, making sure workers have the tools and resources they need to make a positive change. She knows, better than most, that part of the labor movement is the ability to make good on your own vocation.

fullsizeoutput_2cHealth and Human Services: Karen DeSalvo would be the only resident of the South in the cabinet. She served as the New Orleans Health Commissioner, where she took a strong grassroots approach to health services, taking less of a “reactionary” approach and more of a network of resources the community could draw on. Fit NOLA ended up being a wildly successful effort that drew links between the business world, community leaders, and the government. Her efforts got her an award as a Governing magazine public official of the year, and subsequent served as an Assistant Secretary in HHS during the closing years of the Obama administration. She has the executive experience and federal background to improve Obamacare- hopefully with a public option this time around.

aaron bartleyHousing and Urban Development: One element I wanted in this cabinet was a proper grassroots activist. They don’t always work out in government: ultimately, not everyone can make the transition from the streets to working within the system they hoped to change. But I’ve got a good feeling about my fellow Buffalonian Aaron Bartley. His PUSH organization (that’s People United for Sustainable Housing) has brought new life into the dilapidated West Side of the Nickel City. It’s influx of refugees and immigrants have contributed to PUSH’s job training, urban agriculture, and green-powered affordable housing.

r.t. rybakTransportation: I’m a big fan of the state of Minnesota- it’s proven that progressive leadership can produce results. For Transportation, I pick R.T. Rybak, the former mayor of St. Paul. Rybak unexpectedly became the face of coping with America’s crumbling infrastructure when I-35W bridge collapsed. His response- which included not just quick fixes but planning for the future, including light rail- was widely praised, and even earned him a nomination for the World Mayor Award. He even leads a public bicycle-sharing program.

shirley jacksonEnergy: This is another cabinet spot whose importance cannot be understated- it’s key to have strong, steady, knowledgeable leadership in an agency that is responsible for the nuclear weapons program and safe disposal of energy sources. Shirley Jackson would be 74 by the time she got the job, but there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t excel at it. Jackson served as chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, chaired the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Bill Clinton, served as president of RPI (about an hour from where I grew up in upstate New York), and- oh yes- was the first black woman to get a Ph.D. from MIT.

joseph garciaEducation: To rehabilitate our public education system after the Betsy DeVos onslaught, we need someone with the heart of an educator, and the skills of a politician. Joseph Garcia is the man for that. He’s served as President of Colorado State-Pueblo, spent five years on the Colorado Commission for Higher Education, and was twice the Community College President of the Year. After all that, he served a short tenure as lieutenant governor of Colorado doing double duty as the Executive Director of Higher Education. He’s got the chops and the track record to oversee the federal government’s role in ensuring that everybody receives a quality education in America.

Mike MichaudVeterans’ Affairs: In 2014, Congressman Michael Michaud averred re-election to Maine’s rural 2nd district to run for Vacationland’s governor. That didn’t work out, and after some speculation about his future, took a job as an Assistant Secretary of Labor in a role that facilitates the training and hiring of veterans. Maine- especially the 2nd district- has an unusually large number of military veterans, and Michaud is no stranger to representing their interests. He was one of the first to identify the VA incompetence under Eric Shinseki and demand reform. Michaud also sponsored an act in Congress that would have given tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. As someone conversant in the fields of veterans’ affairs, health care, and labor, he’d be a slam dunk at the VA. Oh, and if confirmed, he’d be the first openly gay cabinet secretary.

Julliette KayeemHomeland Security: I’d expect that Vice President McRaven would come in handy in security policy, but the actual cabinet spot should go to Juliette Kayyem.  Some might clutch pearls at the idea of Homeland Security being led by a Lebanese woman, but Kayyem has more than earned her spot at the table. See, she has effortlessly combined deep policy knowledge, government experience, and public relations genius- something residually missing from previous secretaries of this department. She has already worked as an Assistant Secretary in this department, served as the Homeland Security secretary of Massachusetts, and published a well-received memoir called Security Mom. She also coordinated the White House response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, giving her solid crisis management chops.

jody williamsPeace: Wait a minute, you say- there isn’t a Department of Peace! I say that we create one. And it isn’t some nebulous hippy-dippy idea. It’s been proposed by serious politicians for decades, ranging from Republicans like Alexander Wiley to crusty West Virginia populists like Matthew Neeley, to Hoosier Vance Hartke, to modern-day politicos like Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and former congressman Dennis Kucinich. It would coordinate, support, and recruit for active peacemaking, heading Peace Corps and Americorps, rehabilitating prisoners and drug users into society, and monitor democracy abroad. It might even oversee the McGovern Institute, kind of a West Point for peacemaking. And I want Nobel Prize winner Jody Williams to be its first leader. Williams is a hard-nosed realist who despises ineffectual marches, coordinates UN, governmental, and humanitarian activities like a pro, and has been instrumental in the long campaign to defuse, remove, and disincentivized landmines. Rather than giving the Pentagon everything they ask and more, we should be using our nation’s resources for programs like these.

So- what do you think? I like this cabinet a lot for a Warren-McRaven administration. It represents the best of public service in America- and can encourage a new generation to take part in civic activity like the Kennedy administration did over fifty years earlier. It provides a number of different perspectives- the business world, government, academia, grassroots activism, the military- to collaborate on solving deep problems. 50% are women, and six are persons of color- and every one is imminently qualified by character, temperament, and experience.  Let me know your thoughts about this in the comments below. If there’s enough interest I might fill this out with a subsequent post on other positions like EPA, Chief of Staff, CIA director, UN Ambassador, and so on.

So here we are! At long last, after reviewing possible candidates to run for governor, for senator, and for the House, it’s time to finally look at what a competent administration looks like. And what a pipe dream that feels like these days! Today, we are saddled with a Secretary of Education who seems intent on dismantling public schools, a Secretary of the Treasury beholden to Wall Street, an EPA administrator who wants to dissemble the EPA, a Secretary of Energy who forgot which departments he wanted to eliminate when running for the presidency four years earlier, an NSA guy who lied about his ties to Russia, and an Attorney General who did the same. The most competent person is the cabinet is Elaine Chao, a Bush-43 returnee married to Mitch McConnell.

Nonetheless, I dream. I dream of a presidency committed to a square deal for every American, one infused with compassion, intellect, and vision. I dream of an administration filled with competent people who are driven by a love of public service- with no frauds, demagogues, or loudmouths among them. In this post, I’ll cover my choice for the presidential ticket, and my reasoning for doing so- and look at my ideal cabinet in the next installment.

So- what did I want in my presidential ticket?

I thought long and hard about this. Although dozens of think pieces have been written about the Democrats’ lack of a strong bench, there are actually about a dozen solid contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 that most people are talking about. My state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, are among them. Northeasterners are also heavily represented in Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Kamala Harris is discussed as a new up-and-comer.  Return engagements for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden- both of whom will be deep in their seventies- are bandied about. Some other names turn up- Julian Castro, Al Franken, Tim Kaine, and even some wishful choices like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.

There’s a lot of talent and a fair bit of presidential timber on this list, but also some significant problems. One is the major coastal focus of this group- that’s especially a problem when Democrats tanked in the Midwest and the South, and have become a nonentity in their former stronghold of Appalachia. Another is its lack of executive experience- the only one who has it is Cuomo, in my opinion the least electable guy on my list. I want a team that will not just heal the rift between Clinton-Sanders but take an axe to the “Trump coalition” in the same way that Obama took an axe to the “Bush coalition” in 2008.

I wanted a fair dose of progressivism, but a kind of progressivism that could win over swaths of middle America, one that could get $15-an-hour workers in Kansas to stop voting against their economic interests. I wanted regional diversity- and a team that would accentuate each other’s strengths. When I used to play Magic: the Gathering, one of the sharpest pieces of advice I got was to find multiple ways of defeating your opponent. This team will have multiple ways of dissecting, confronting, and ultimately offering an all-American alternative to, Donald Trump.

It’s Elizabeth Warren for president. And William McRaven for vice-president.

Here’s why I think this is the best ticket to win and the best ticket for a progressive, socially just vision for America’s future. Elizabeth Warren scarcely needs no introduction. She made a name for herself as an advocate for a Consumer Finance Protection Board, and gained a reputation for her skill in explaining complex economic and fiscal concepts in layman’s terms. Since then, she’s become the senator from Massachusetts and a progressive icon that has almost unanimous affection within the Democratic Party and among progressive-leaning independents. She’s written multiple books on making the economy work again for middle-class families, and has followed that up by becoming a strong presence in Congress leading calls- heretofore unheeded- to reinstall Glass-Stegall.

Warren has the capacity, like no one else, to heal the rift between Hillary people and Bernie people. If you supported Hillary, you’ll probably like Warren’s deep policy knowledge, reputation for doing her homework, and conscientious social gospel Methodism. If you were a Bernie person in the primaries, Warren’s unequivocal denunciation of corrupt financial practices is probably right up your alley. Stephen Colbert described Warren as a “combo platter” of the best of each 2016 candidate, and I think that’s about right.  Warren is also able to take advantage of a tactic that I wish Hillary had pursued- that of being an ex-Republican. Yes, Elizabeth Warren was a Republican at an earlier stage of her life, before the party got wedded to an ideology where no tax cut was too deep, no military expenditure too high, and no social program was too sacred to get the axe. It will let her adopt some rhetorical tics that Reagan used effectively, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.”

But what about William McRaven? There is, I think, an unhealthy tendency to lionize or obsess over military figures entering politics. I remember well the clamoring for Wesley Clark in 2004, for Anthony Zinni to join Obama’s ticket in 2008, for David Petraeus to enter the fray in 2012. For various reasons, these figures didn’t pan out in electoral politics, but McRaven might be the real deal. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s a retired admiral, former director of NATO Special Operations, and led Operation: Neptune Spear, which ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. His reputation in military circles is of someone who checks his ego at the door, who can work a room as well as any senator, and who earns rather than demands respect. As the University of Texas chancellor, he’s shown that he can make the transition from military to civilian life in an educator’s role (as Dwight Eisenhower did at Columbia, immediately before running for president.) Those of you who read this blog know I’m somewhat enamored of the guy– I’ve floated his name for Homeland Security and have suggested he run for senator from Texas in an earlier post. Whether or not he does that, and whether or not he wins, I think he’d be a strong candidate.

McRaven’s long career in national service contrasts sharply with Trump’s multiple deferments and consistent refusal to take responsibility for his actions. More than that, McRaven can appeal to those Americans who have found earlier cultures of liberalism to be toxic or unwelcoming. Consider his response to the UT Austin football team, some of whose members were considering kneeling during the national anthem. Rather than demand or order, McRaven persuaded- and his rhetoric was nationalist and progressive at the same time: “Those that believe the flag represents oppression should remember all the Americans who fought to eliminate bigotry, racism, sexism, imperialism, communism, and terrorism…The flag rode with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th Calvary and Infantry Regiments. It was carried by the suffragists down the streets of New York City. It flew with the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. It was planted in the fields where Cesar Chavez spoke. It marched with Martin Luther King Jr. It rocketed into space on the shoulder patches of women, gays, Hispanic, Asian and African American astronauts.”

Recently, McRaven has spoken out about the folly of allowing concealed handguns on the University of Texas campuses, and has derided Trump’s attacks on the press as un-American. And yet, he’s a proud firearm owner- but can articulate responsible ownership in a way that won’t scare off rural Americans. Progressives have to reach out to voters like that, and Elizabeth Warren can’t do that alone. I understand the hesitance of some longtime peacemakers in supporting a ticket with a military man- I share some of it. But if we need to have a military, it’s good to have it populated with people like McRaven.

So I believe that William McRaven can help the Democrats appeal to Middle America, military families, Rotary members, and other Republican-leaning demographics that are horrified by the incompetence, corruption, and craven character of Trumpworld. It’s not enough to simply be progressive, tout your support for all the correct issues, and use the appropriate hashtags. We need to make it easy for independents and disaffected Republicans of good sense to vote for the Democratic ticket. The true populism and the true patriotism of a Warren-McRaven ticket would present an alternative that is electable, visionary, and brings out what is best about the American political tradition. I also like how the Massachusetts and Texas origins echo Kennedy-Johnson from 1960, and how they both represent three different elements of public service, one in politics, one in the military, and both in academia. What do you think? Does this ticket have what it takes?

Next time? Let’s pick out a good cabinet for this ticket.

Before we dive in to what the presidential contest of 2020 might look like, and how a competent, progressive administration devoted to public service might shape up, I want to briefly include some errata to previous posts. I made a couple mistakes and overlooked a couple of great candidates. But even since I began posting, we can see frontrunners lining up for major races, even though those elections are fully nineteen months away. Some people I pegged as gubernatorial candidates are thinking about running for the Senate, and vice versa. I’ll retroactively fix the earlier posts, but here are some corrections that I wish to make:

  • Governor of Georgia, 2018: Sally Yates, the recently-fired acting attorney general, seems to be making a move for this position. I had originally had her pegged down as a potential senator, as she has worked at the federal level before, and put Jason Carter as the candidate for governor, since his grandfather once held that position. I’m switching the two.
  • Governor of Colorado, 2018: Same story. I had thought Denver mayor Michael Hancock would be a fine choice for governor, following in the footsteps of John Hickenlooper, who took a similar path from mayor to governor. As it turns out, my original Senate pick, Mike Johnston, seems to be running for governor. No worries- Hancock would make a great senator, Johnston would be a fine governor. Again, switching the candidates.
  • PA-15, 2018: As one reader, mr.peanut, put it- Ed Pawlowski is too tainted by corruption charges to be a viable candidate, and could hardly take on a relative moderate like Charlie Dent successfully. State representative Jennifer Mann would be a better selection.
  • NY-23, 2018: Colleen Wegman was maybe a bit too far-fetched. Svante Myrick would be a fine choice instead. He is mayor of Ithaca, and was a finalist for the World Mayor Award.
  • NY-22, 2018: I am going to give Kim Myers another chance at this Utica-based seat, having lost by only about 5% in an unusual set of circumstances.
  • NE-Gov: The more I thought about it, the more that Howard Warren Buffett- yes, the Sage of Omaha’s grandson- made sense.
  • U.S. Senator from Connecticut, 2018 and Governor of Connecticut, 2018- yeah, a switcher here as well. Let’s keep Chris Murphy in the Senate, and make Carolyn Miles the gubernatorial candidate. As a non-political, Miles should be insulated somewhat from Governor Malloy’s unpopularity.
  • Governor of Maryland (Feb. 27): with my initial candidate, Tom Perez, winning election as chair of the DNC, I will need to find a new candidate. I frankly don’t like any of the current contenders for this seat, so I’ll need to pick out one of my own: State Senator Bill Ferguson.

There are only 11 Democrats holding the 33 seats in this particular congressional cycle. By the luck of the draw, this batch doesn’t have many swing states- Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida all get a rest this cycle. In 2014 when these “Class 2” seats was up, Democrats got decimated. Incumbents lost in Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Open seats were lost in Iowa, West Virginia, and Georgia. It was a damn bloodbath. Hindsight, though, is 2020. And in 2020, we’ll have a chance to win some of those seats back, and if we are extraordinarily lucky, get back the Senate in the process.

Of the 11 Democratic seats, I project the following 6 to run for re-election without complications: Tom Udall (New Mexico); Jeff Merkley (Oregon); Gary Peters (Michigan); Mark Warner (Virginia); Al Franken (Minnesota); and Chris Coons (Delaware). Although Warner had a glass jaw in 2014, barely winning what should have been a landslide against a joke of an opponent, I ultimately think that each of them should have a fairly easy ride to re-election. Maybe Peters is in the most danger, but if Michigan only barely went Republican under extraordinary circumstances in 2016, a good, careful, constituent-oriented campaign should win the day.

But only 6 Democratic seats with surefire incumbents running? That’s…um…not a lot. See, one issue is that lots of Democrats in this cycle are nearing a plausible retiring age. Of those whom I don’t expect to run again are:

New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen survived- barely- against not-really-from-New-Hampshire Scott Brown in 2014. She’ll be 73 on Election Day 2020, and could very well decide to step down. Amazingly, New Hampshire had two Democratic senators for the first time since the late 1970s. Who will succeed her? As loath as I am to break up New Hampshire’s all-female congressional delegation, I pick Chris Pappas. He’ll be a mere 40 years old come 2020, and has served very ably on New Hampshire’s executive council. He’d have a tough race- I’d be shocked if Kelly Ayotte doesn’t try to win New Hampshire’s other senate seat. But if he prevails, Pappas would be the first openly gay man in the U.S. Senate.

Illinois: Dick Durbin will be just shy of 76, and the Senate Minority Whip- having seen his onetime junior senator Barack Obama become president- might hang up his hat. If so, expect a massive bloodbath in the Democratic primaries. Attorney general Lisa Madigan is probably likely to run and probably likely to win. But I want to throw my endorsement to Representative Cheri Bustos instead. As one of the rare Democrats serving Illinois in congress from outside of the Chicago area, downstaters need assurances that Chicago doesn’t run the whole state- much as Kristin Gillibrand was an olive branch to upstate New York.

Massachusetts: Ed Markey has been in congress since 1976, and he’ll be in his mid-70s by the next presidential election. Retiring then and now will allow him to almost certainly hand off his Senate seat to another Democrat. While Joseph Kennedy III is waiting in the wings, I think the future of the party is in better hands with Seth Moulton. He’s done a terrific job as a congressman, and is an Iraq veteran who doesn’t like to brag about his service. Moulton is widely regarded as the future of the Democratic Party in the Bay State, and I’m not inclined to disagree.

Rhode Island: Jack Reed always seems to be in the conversation for Secretary of Defense, and has always turned down the chance. Reed will be 70 on election day, and after 24 years in the Senate may decide to call it a day- perhaps waiting for a call to higher office. Should this spot open up, I’d place my bets on Jorge Elorza. The Providence mayor has helped dig the city out of its financial hole and is an avid cyclist. If chosen, he too would make history: the first Latin-American senator to represent New England.

Special cases: 2020 is also a presidential election year. I don’t want to reveal too much about my 2020 presidential election post for this series, but let’s imagine for a moment that Kirstin Gillibrand and Cory Booker decide not to run for re-election to the Senate and to focus on their presidential race instead. There’s already articles about a Chelsea Clinton vs. Caroline Kennedy showdown, and I hope to god that doesn’t happen. I’d prefer Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council and has recently served as CEO of an organization aiding homeless women in New York City. For New Jersey, it’s Josh Gottheimer, who took out an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district that Trump carried. As a speechwriter and strong fundraiser, he’ll have plenty of advantages if this spot becomes available.

Otherwise, we’ve got 22 seats controlled by Republicans. So let’s get down to it.

Alabama: So this seat now belongs to Luther Strange, the man who sounds like a DC-Marvel villain mash-up and was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat when he became attorney general. Going up against a Republican during an election year in Alabama spells almost certain defeat, but I’d like to see what Walter Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, can do. His job is technically non-partisan, but his Democratic sympathies are an open secret. He earned a great deal of praise in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado that decimated his city.

Alaska: Dan Sullivan narrowly beat Mark Begich back in 2014, returning this seat to the Republicans. In this situation, I’m inclined to gamble- on Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. He’ll be 30 years old- barely- when the election rolls around, but he’s already rewritten the rule book on grassroots campaigning in unfriendly Alaska. He took on a powerful incumbent- the Finance Committee chair in the Alaska House, and beat him. He went door to door in a house district the size of New Jersey- often by plane or ferry- to meet his constituents, and then took on oil companies once elected.

Arkansas: Ah, geez. Look- unless he primaries Donald Trump and forfeits his Senate seat, Tom Cotton is pretty sure to win this seat as well- his recent Town Hall debacle notwithstanding. Connor Eldridge is a good candidate on paper- moderate on a lot of social issues, an economic populist in the right ways- but if he barely made a dent against the nondescript John Boozman, I don’t see him taking out a bona fide conservative rock star like Cotton. But he has as good a chance as anyone I can name- he just needs some national support for this race.

Colorado: Mark Udall lost what should have been a winnable race here in 2014. Cory Gardner is touted as an up-and-coming Republican personality, but the right opponent can defeat him, especially in a presidential election year. I believe that right opponent is Denver mayor Michael Hancock. Under his mayoralty, Denver has continued to grow in its role as an attractive regional powerhouse. Having spent part of his childhood homeless, Hancock has worked hard to make sure that Denver’s prosperity is shared. Light rail lines have grown connecting downtown Denver to its distant airport, affordable housing units have been built, and a think tank called the Denver Peak Academy was founded to find creative, cost-saving solutions to the city’s problems. For his efforts, Governing magazine named him one of its 2016 Public Officials of the Year.

Georgia: Like Arizona, Georgia is a state that is trending blue, but at a glacial pace. Statewide office holders who could appeal to the wide public are scarce, but I think a second chance should be given to Jason Carter. In a very red year with terrible turnout, in a blue-trending red state, Carter took on an incumbent governor and still kept the loss within double digits. And he’s no mere legacy pick- he is a state senator, a prominent ethics reformer, and like his great-grandmother Miss Lillian, served in the Peace Corps. In a more favorable climate, Carter can take on not-especially-strong incumbent David Perdue.

Iowa: Joni Ernst, whose shocking pig-castrating ads nonetheless seemed palatable to Iowans, is up for re-election. I searched high and low for a possible contender before arriving at Todd Prichard. Iowa Starting Line says this about him: “On paper, Prichard, 43, fits many of the qualities Democrats say they want more of in their statewide candidates: an Iraq War veteran, younger, represents rural Iowa, and personally understands working-class issues. That certainly sounds to many like the profile of a Democrat who could win back the blue-collar and rural voters that moved away from the party in recent years.” That’s a guy with a winning resume and a constituent-friendly approach. Let’s make sure that Joni Ernst is German for “one-term senator.”

Kentucky: If we are lucky, Mitch McConnell will finally decide to hang it up in 2020. He’s been there since 1984, and is fifth in seniority. Dealing with President Trump and doing damage control will probably make the then-78-year-old retreat into retirement. Greg Fischer might be a fantastic candidate to make a play for the open seat, where Democrats have actually run fairly competitive races in 2008, 2010, and 2014. His small business roots- he invented a commonly-used beverage dispenser- and his good work as mayor of Louisville make him poised to be competitive.

Louisiana: So, Louisiana elected a Democrat to a statewide office in 2015, but it happened under an unusual set of circumstances. Can it happen again? It’s a tough order, but I’d like to see Mitch Landrieu try. His older sister Mary lost this seat in 2014- a bad year to run as a Democrat in a Deep South state. Governing magazine named the New Orleans mayor one of their Public Officials of the Year for 2015. He’s overseen the proud city’s rebuilding process, and business development in the city is now twice what it was per capita before Hurricane Katrina.

Maine: Whither Susan Collins? She might end up governor of Maine; she’d be the prohibitive favorite if she ran in 2018, and would have the luxury of appointing her successor to the Senate. On the other hand, after 24 years in the Senate, she might opt to retire as well- possibly ending the tradition of moderate Republicanism in so doing. Either way, I don’t expect her to be running for a fifth term. Ergo, I’m happy to support Hannah Pingree. She’s a genuine progressive, will be 44 years old in 2020, and was the Speaker of Maine’s House while in her early 30s. Since I started following U.S. politics in 2005, we haven’t had a progressive Democrat in the Senate, and I’d love to see Pingree take that role.

Mississippi: I’ll bet you a shiny nickel that Thad Cochran retires, after a long career that began when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. It’s an open seat, but I’m inclined to think Chris McDaniel, the Tea Partier who nearly primaried Cochran in 2014, will try again.  Not too many Democrats can get elected in a statewide election, but Jim Hood has. Believe it or not, Mississippi has a Democrat attorney general- and it’s him. He’s a personable, gun-owning, Bible-reading good-ol’-boy. We’ll see if that’s enough. Governing magazine calls him “The Last Democrat in Dixie”; in some ways, he’s the end of his tradition as much as Susan Collins is her’s.

Montana: Although it inclines very much toward Republicans in presidential races, Democrats have been successful- all things considered- in this rural, but in some ways extremely populist- state. Despite some maneuvering that included sending Max Baucus to serve as Ambassador to China, Republicans gained this seat. Incumbent Steve Daines should expect to face a robust challenge. And I believe he will in the form of Steve Bullock. He was elected governor twice, each time during a presidential election year where Romney and Trump respectively won Montana by landslide margins. Bullock knows how to communicate with rural voters and would make this seat a strong choice to flip to blue.

Nebraska: Ben Sasse made a name for himself when he became one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump in the Republican Party- so much so that some thought he would mount a third-party challenge. And yet, Sasse continues to vote for Trump’s policies; fivethrityeight actually measures his record as voting with Trump’s position 100% of the time! Although Sasse is still a prohibitive favorite, I have an unconventional suggestion- Omaha police chief Todd Schmaderer. Like many Nebraska offices, this one is non-partisan, so I’m not even sure that he is actually a Democrat. And yet, he’s excelled at bridging frayed relations between the police and the community, even evincing some empathy for Black Lives Matter.

North Carolina: I honestly thought that Kay Hagan would pull off re-election in this state in 2014. Thom Tillis ended up winning, though, and will defend this seat in 2020. We need a strong opponent to take out an incumbent in a right-leaning swing state. And I want Anthony Foxx to do that job. The former mayor of Charlotte presided over a strong economy and robust environmental measures in his city before going on to serve as Secretary of Transportation. But the South has never elected a black Democrat to the Senate. Ever. I say it’s time to break that nasty tradition.

South Carolina: I wonder how things will turn out for Lindsey Graham. Long derided as the Robin to John McCain’s Batman, he faces the daily mortification of voting ‘yea’ for nominees put forth by a man who gave out his private cell phone number on live television. If we’re going to make a play for South Carolina, I have another candidate to test the waters of black Democrats in the Deep South. He’s retired Major General Abraham Turner. His military service dates back to 1976, he once worked for U.S. Strategic Command, and even has bipartisan credentials, having served as Nikki Haley’s Executive Director of the Department of Employment and Workforce. He joined dozens of retired high-ranking military personnel in endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016.

South Dakota: Two-term governor Mike Rounds was elected in 2014 under the shadow of a scandal involving money-funneling in the state’s green-cards-for-investment policy. Rounds’s popularity has peaks and valleys in South Dakota- it always has. But South Dakotans have a reputation for throwing a senator out if they get “too Washington,” as Tom Daschle, George McGovern, and Larry Pressler have all learned. So let’s pick somebody not Washington at all; I’d suggest someone like Alisha Vincent, head of Dakota Wesleyan’s George McGovern Center. The GMC is devoted to public service, combatting hunger, and fostering strong community involvement. That’s exactly the tone that must be struck- hearkening back to traditional, commonly accepted ideas, that can help Democrats win again in the prairie.

Texas: So, John Cornyn is up. A lot of how this race goes depends on whether Democrats can make gains in the Lone Star State as its demographic slowly move in their favor. I would argue that it’s time for Julian Castro to see if he can’t fulfill his destiny. He was the Democrats’ “next rising star” – now held by Pete Buttigieg- a position once held by Cory Booker, Barack Obama, Harold Ford, and others. The former San Antonio mayor and Secretary of HUD will be able to get lots of outside help and fundraising necessary to pull off an upset like this. But will Texas be ready for Castro by that point in time?

Tennessee: It’s difficult to see into the future for this seat. Lamar Alexander will be 80 in 2020 and may very well have retirement on his mind. Rumors abound that Peyton Manning will run for this seat, but who knows if they will materialize. Megan Barry, the mayor of Nashville, is well positioned to make a go of it. She’s earned a reputation as a bipartisan problem-solver seeking common ground- and depending on how the country’s fault lines move in the coming years, that might be enough to eek out a win in Tennessee.

West Virginia: Shelly Moore-Capito graduated from the House to the Senate in 2014, taking the seat that had long been Jay Rockefeller’s. In so doing, she became the first Republican senator to represent West Virginia since the 1940s. Although the state gave Donald Trump one of his widest margins, it has often elected Democrats to statewide offices in the recent past, although this trend is fading fast. Carte Goodwin made a fine impression during his short tenure in the Senate, when he was appointed to fill the seat of the legendary Robert Byrd upon his death. He developed a reputation as an executive problem solver, serving as chair of the school-building authority, and helping to mastermind mine rescue operations.

Wyoming: Yikes. Another tough one. Mike Enzi will be 76 and having been in the Senate since 1997, is one more guy on the retirement watch list. Liz Cheney made a play for his seat, but I think popular governor Matt Mead will run- and is the prohibitive favorite to win. In case of the unexpected, though, we should put forward a strong candidate in this most forbidding of climates. Laurie Nichols, the president of the University of Wyoming, would represent the state well in Washington. As she’s weathered large budget cuts that hurt her university, she is in a good position to challenge the conservative proclivity to gut education, the arts, and public television.

So, lots of pickup opportunities, but many of them are in very unfriendly states. But a bad enough political climate- which I think is what we are heading for- can make any seat competitive. Stay tuned as we address the presidential race in 2020 next time.

At last, we’ve finished our journey through the 2018 off-year elections. We’ve looked at some vulnerable house seats, looked at ways to preserve as many Senate seats as possible in a very challenging year, and scouted out some primo prospects for perhaps the weakest area for progressives– the 50 gubernatorial mansions. Now we’ve arrived at 2019 and 2020. I’ll begin by looking at the gubernatorial elections set for those two years- before we branch out to the really exciting stuff– taking back some of those seats we lost in 2014 and then looking at winning the presidency.

Starting with the elections in the off-off-year of 2019:

Kentucky: If ever a state shot itself in the foot, this is it. The Bluegrass State had a popular Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, despite being blood red in presidential elections. It had one of the most successful implementations of Obamacare on the state level through the KYnect system. Yet when 2015 rolled around and Beshear’s two terms were up, the state picked Matt Bevin, a Tea Party businessman who had unsuccessfully primaried Mitch McConnell the year before, over former state attorney general Jack Conway. With buyers’ remorse, Bevin started dismantling KYnect and cut benefits in a poor, under-educated state. Well, winter’s coming, Bevin. Last time anybody checked, his approval rating was in the thirties. And Kentucky actually has a shockingly high number of registered Democrats, albeit of the conservative, Southern populist variety. Andy Beshear, the son of the previous governor and current state attorney general, is by far the best candidate. He even sued Bevin over mid-cycle cuts to the university system, and has handily won statewide election.

Louisiana: A perfect Gulf of Mexico storm led to John Bel Edwards becoming governor following the 2015 election in this state. Term-limited incumbent Bobby Jindal had grown unpopular due to state education budget cuts (sensing a pattern?) and his opponent in the general election, David Vitter, was embroiled in a prostitution scandal. Edwards, in contrast, was anti-abortion, critical of Obama in all the ways appropriate for a very red state, and ran on…once again, southern populism. The task is simple- re-elect him.

Mississippi: Oh, Mississippi. Can a state whose public image is still pockmarked by racialized violence and Jim Crow elect a Democratic governor in the post-Obama age? If Trump is unpopular enough, maybe. If the candidate is good enough, maybe. My selection is therefore Brandon Presley, who seems like he was genetically engineered in a laboratory to break the Republican death grip on Mississippi politics. He is popular- having served as a small town mayor and a public service commissioner who helped open up rural parts of the state to internet access. He is a Baptist. He’s young- he’d be only 42 on Election Day, 2019. Oh, and he’s a distant relative of Elvis Presley. With Phil Bryant obliged to leave after one term, Presley might make a race of it in a tough state where voting almost always runs along racialized lines.

And now– the 2020 gubernatorial elections, taking place simultaneously with the presidential and congressional elections.

Vermont and New Hampshire: These two states are the only ones left which vote for their governors every two years (this practice actually used to be the norm in the U.S.!) If both still have their Republican governors in 2020, I’d say let’s change candidates from 2018. Vermont could use David Zuckerman, the current lieutenant governor who is actually a member of the Progressive Party and an organic farmer. For New Hampshire, state senator Dan Feltes would be a strong candidate- he’s young and is an effective legislator from the Concord area. He’s worked as a legal advocate for veterans, the poor, and victims of domestic violence. His bipartisanship and civility make him someone to watch out for in an almost evenly divided state.

Delaware: Since I first started following politics in 2005, Delaware has had a Democratic governor, and he or she has always gotten elected handily. Absent some horrific unforeseen scandal, John Carney should win re-election in a cakewalk.

Indiana: The time has come. The hour has arrived. For Pete Buttigieg, the 30-something mayor of South Bend, the opportunity to enter the national stage is nigh. He’s done amazing things in this Rust Belt town, and his practicality, vision, and military service, give him the profile of what it may take to succeed in Indiana for 21st century progressives. He’s been touted as the next great young Democrat, and it’s time to see if he can make good on that promise.

Missouri: Hillary Clinton’s polling collapse during the final 10 days of the campaign severely hurt the prospects of candidates in red and swing states down-ballot. Chris Koster, the state’s former attorney general, led nearly all polling, but ultimately lost by 5 points. In a different electoral environment, he might very well pull off a victory, but Missouri isn’t getting any bluer.

Montana: Like Delaware, this state has had a Democratic governor since I started following politics- except Montana is very red state in most other respects.  While Brian Schweitzer is technically eligible to run again- governors can only serve two consecutive terms- I think the party should go in another direction. Ellie Hill is in her early 40s and is a longtime state legislator from Missoula. She’s extremely social-justice oriented and earlier in her career helped support the Poverello Center to provide food and shelter to Montana’s homeless. Hill is a progressive visionary and has the chance to help make that vision work in the mountain west.

Utah: If the goal is to give the mountain west a choice and not an echo, a question emerges: can a lesbian non-Mormon be elected governor? Let’s find out. Jackie Biskupski is the current mayor of Salt Lake City, and a strong advocate for clean energy. She is also, like Hill, committing to alleviating homelessness.

Washington: The Evergreen State hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980- although a few of those elections were disarmingly close. Jay Inslee is hanging it up after two terms in office, leading to an opening for Bob Ferguson. The state attorney general has been a strong consumer advocate and most recently made the news by initiating a challenge to Mr. Trump’s executive order 13769. This triggered the judicial smackdown of the travel ban- and might be enough to make Ferguson a progressive hero in a state increasingly distrustful of establishment politicians. As a noted chess master, Ferguson plays the long game.

So these are my gubernatorial picks. I’m not totally happy with them- only two women and no persons of colour- but each one is capable and can push their respective states in a healthier direction. Next time? Let’s take back the Senate in 2020.

Yikes…this series has already gone longer than I ever intended it to. And the end isn’t even in sight. This is the final post on retaking some House districts before we move to 2020 and its gubernatorial, senatorial, and especially presidential elections. For this post, I’ve construed the “West” broadly here, meaning obviously the Pacific coast, but also the Rocky Mountains and the “prairie states,” whose eastern halves often share more of a character with the Midwest. While the South and Midwest included many stretches and hail-Mary candidates, there are actually more likely pickups in this final section on the House. Take a look at California- fully 20% of all Democrats in the House come from this single state, but even then it has a number of very close, evenly matched districts with Republican incumbents. So without any further ado, let’s begin.

Alaska (at large): Don Young has represented this district since 1973, and since then, he’s become the crown prince of pork-barrel spending in a state with some of the wackiest politics in the union. Only in 2008 did he face credible opposition, winning by a scant 5 points; he might have lost if Sarah Palin wasn’t on the national ticket that year. Who was his challenger that year? Why that would be current Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz. You’d never guess it but Alaska is technically one of the more urban states in the country; over 50% of its population lives in the Anchorage metro area, giving Berkowitz the base of support he needs to challenge this bearded barnacle of an incumbent.

Arizona- 02: Any foreseeable map for taking back the House has to make a play for this district, which is mostly urban and covers much of the Tucson area. Matt Heinz, who ran for this seat in 2016, deserves another shot. He’s a medical doctor pushing 40, worked for Health and Human Services in Washington, and is a strong supporter of using Arizona to develop solar energy. His ties to Obamacare will surely be less of a liability in 2018 as the G.O.P. struggles to articulate a replacement.

California- 10: This particular district is dead even on the Cook PVI, and contains almost equal numbers of white and Hispanic voters. To nudge this district over the edge, I suggest looking for a disaffected Republican who hails from this area: Ann Veneman, George W. Bush’s secretary of agriculture. Veneman is a strong supporter of UNICEF, same-sex marriage, international aid, of humanitarian relief, and women’s health.  In short, the modern Republican Party bears no resemblance to her views any longer. Like my suggestion with Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey, perhaps someone can convince her to run as a Democrat-caucusing independent, with Democrats promising not to run someone of their own.

California- 21: Like the Dubuque district in Iowa and the Syracuse district in upstate New York, this one is listed as D+5 but still has a Republican congressman, David Valadao. The 21st went for Hillary by around 15 points, and is 70% Hispanic, which makes me think it is likely to fall if its candidate gets the right support. So even though Emilio Huerta lost the election in 2016, I think he should get another shot. (And yes, he’s Dolores’s son.) Huerta, who is a labor lawyer and a United Farm Workers veteran, has just the right profile for this district.

California- 25: The Simi Valley area is covered by this district, which is also listed as evenly matched in its partisan makeup. Hannah-Beth Jackson is an experienced hand who has represented this district for many years in California’s state assembly. She was the author of California’s nation-leading Fair Pay Act, and the Consumer Federation of California has named her its Legislator of the Year.

California- 39: This is a pretty crazy district, listed as R+5 although less than 40% of its population is white. It’s affluent, Republican-leaning, and could very well vote for someone like Ian Calderon. He’s a bit of a scion in California dynastic politics, but that at least means that he won’t have to worry about name recognition or fund-raising. He is a noteworthy advocate of childhood education and has recently jumped into the fray over immigration, making sure his constituents know their rights in the midst of intensified ICE raids. He’s not an ideal candidate, but his youth and brand name can help make this race competitive.

California- 45: Mimi Walters is a Republican who is high on any Democratic list of possible takeovers. Based in Orange County, the district has veered to the left in recent years, having gone from supporting Meg Whitman and Mitt Romney to supporting Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris. I would recommend Ferial Govashiri as the candidate. This young Iranian-American was also Barack Obama’s personal aide during his second term, and is as well-suited as any thirty-something I can think of to weigh in on issues of national significance.

California- 48: The 48th covers the coastal, and frankly more conservative, parts of Orange County. Democrats haven’t done well here historically, but Clinton beat out Trump and those trends should continue, given the district’s demographics. Deborah Cook was mayor of Huntingdon Beach and made the closest race of it in this district back in 2008; I think she would be the best candidate. Presently, she serves as a director of the Post-Carbon Institute, and fits in nicely with the environmentalism of coastal California.

California- 49: The closest congressional race in 2016 was right in this district. Darrell Issa’s countless, pointless, fruitless investigations of the Obama administration hurt his popularity here, but not enough to oust him. Doug Applegate remains a prohibitive favorite in 2018; the former Marine would be a good fit for a district that includes Camp Pendleton and his business background is in the general tenor of the San Diego suburbs.

Colorado- 06: Republican Mike Coffman is, on paper, a strong candidate for a district like this that is slightly more Democratic than the nation on average, which covers the city of Aurora and some of Denver’s eastern suburbs. Coffman was secretary of state for Colorado and a former Marine. Well, Coffman was a strong candidate…up until a week or two ago. Footage of him escaping a gathering with constituents in a library went viral, as angry voters accosted him about the hasty repeal of Obamacare. All things considered, this may be a career-immolating mistake. Advantage Morgan Carroll, a strong candidate who should have gotten greater support and traction when she ran for this seat last year. Her staunch environmentalism and penchant for legislation limiting the influence of lobbyists   will probably fit nicely with the issues that will illuminate 2018.

Kansas- 03: Covering the Kansas City metro area, this district still favors Republicans on a congressional level, but narrowly picked Clinton over Trump in the presidential race. But an anti-incumbent wind is probably going to sweep the prairie; Sam Brownback continues to be one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, and the historical Republican domination of Kansas might well be challenged. Kelly Kultala ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, serves on the local library board, and once represented this area in the Kansas state senate.

Montana- at large: With Ryan Zinke appointed to serve as secretary of the interior, whoever gets this seat will not have much incumbency on their side. Amanda Curtis is an anomaly- a thirty-something math teacher and state legislator with a nose ring. When Matt Walsh unexpectedly left the Senate race mid-campaign, Curtis stepped in. And while she lost- in a very Republican year and without the chance to prepare- she’d be a great candidate going forward. Most successful Montana Democrats are centrists, but Curtis isn’t. She supports gun control- her brother died at 16 playing Russian roulette- and was an ardent Bernie supporter. And yet- crazy works in Montana! It regularly elects iconoclastic, anti-corporate Democrats to congress.

Nebraska- 02: Only a handful of districts held by a Democratic incumbent fell to Republicans in 2016; it seems that if you could keep your district in 2014, you could keep it any year! Unfortunately, a solid congressman, Ben Ashford, lost his seat, which covers much of the Omaha metro area. Pete Festersen, the head of Omaha’s city council, would probably be the best opportunity to win back this seat- he’s young, likeable, and will benefit from the technically nonpartisan nature of the city council.

Nevada- 02: Every single district in the Silver State is competitive, although the 2nd leans decidedly to the right. Covering Reno and Carson City, though, its demographics may very well push it into the blue column, as Nevada as a whole has experienced over the last decade. Opportunity may be knocking for state assemblywoman and former Miss Nevada Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno.

South Dakota- at large: Maybe this seems unrealistic. And yet, South Dakota elected a Democratic congresswoman four times in the last 12 years- and at one point had an all-Democratic congressional delegation. Indeed, the party seems fluctuate between being competitive in the state and being a cipher. This seat will not have an incumbent running, as Kristi Noem intends to run for governor. As much as I try to avoid dynastic picks, the South Dakota Democratic Party is in terrible shape, but Brendan Johnson has what it takes to win. His own father’s political career in congress was cut short by a stroke that led him to pass up re-election in 2014. Brendan, meanwhile, has served ably as U.S. Attorney for South Dakota.

Utah- 04: During redistricting, Republicans took the surprisingly progressive Salt Lake City and divided it into two districts dominated by conservative Mormon-heavy suburbs. Of Utah’s four districts, the 4th is the most competitive on paper and is currently served by Mia Love, a black woman who is widely touted as an up-and-coming Republican. But this district has elected a Democrat before, and it might yet again. 42-year-old Ben McAdams is the Democrats’ best prospect in this deepest of red states. Mormon antipathy to Trump will probably only continue to mount- look at the trouble Jason Chaffetz, in an even more conservative district, ran into in his own town hall this week! As the mayor of Salt Lake County, he’s earned good reviews across the board, and has even advocated for workplace protections for gay and lesbian persons in Utah- an act of no small bravery.

Washington- 03: Southwest Washington state is represented by this district. Its current representative, Jaime Herrera Beutler, is one of the leading latina Republicans. A worthy opponent, though, may be found in Vancouver, Washington’s mayor, Timothy Leavitt.

Washington- 08: This looks like such an attractive target. It’s suburban Seattle- ergo fewer tech moguls, lots of 20-something evangelical pastors with hipster beards. Dave Reichert has represented this affluent, very Romney-ish district for years, and nobody has taken him out yet. But Washington as a whole is only getting bluer, and the right candidate can beat him.  For the last spot on my last post on congressmen, I’m going to give in to temptation and pick a celebrity. Seattle’s own- Ken Jennings. Sharp, politically aware, and a good citizen, he’d be great in congress. Wouldn’t this be amazing? The campaign ads write themselves. You could get Alex Trebek to ask, “This west coast-congressman voted with Donald Trump 80% of the time,” with an enthusiastic Jennings buzzing in with “Who is Dave Reichert?” I desperately want this to happen.



If the 2016 election taught us anything, it was a hard lesson in not taking any demographic, any region for granted. Election Night unfolded in a way few foresaw, as Michigan and Wisconsin- two states that voted for Gore and Kerry- tipped Republican. In a way, there is a certain sense to it- these two states have been devastated by deindustrialization, kneecapped by the decline of labor unionism, and are case studies in white flight from city centers. They, of all places, would be vulnerable to economic nationalism, and vague promises of restoring America to greatness. These are areas that would see some corners of modern progressivism as smug and unconcerned with their livelihoods.

That- to employ Midwestern sentence structure- needs fixed. I’ve chosen thoughtful, uniquely midwestern candidates who can channel much of populism’s hopefulness and authenticity without it’s bleaker elements of nativism and insularity.


Illinois- 06: Chicago’s redoubtably Republican suburbs have shown signs of cracking- especially against populist nominees. For example, although Romney carried the district in 2012, it swung hard to Hillary, and suggests that it’s historic business-friendly conservatism may be fraying. (For reference, Dupage County, where part of this district is situated, was once called “the Orange County of the Midwest” was carried by Clinton.) All of this means that Peter Roskam might very well be in trouble. Wheaton College, the intellectual center of modern evangelicalism, is located within this district, and I believe that the successful candidate will need to be conversant in the suburban Christianity that is slowly, tentatively, recognizing the message of social justice inherent in the gospels. I therefore pick Karen McCormack as my choice to run, although she hasn’t made any overtures in that direction. As a Wheaton sociologist, she studies the effect of home foreclosure on families- a matter of no small importance to this district. Moreover, she helped start a Peace and Social Justice minor at Wheaton, and is an expert at persuading evangelical audiences on the necessity of peacemaking, economic fairness, and empathizing with those in need.

Illinois- 12: The 12th takes up much of southwest Illinois, hugging the Missouri border. While in earlier times, this district was heavily Democratic, it moved decisively to Donald Trump, favoring him by ten points over Hillary Clinton. Yet, it’s listed as dead even on the Cook PVI, and I believe that former lieutenant governor Sheila Simon can make this race competitive. Governor Rauner’s travails have made people forget Governor Quinn’s. Her reputation for getting things done and her deep connections to Illinois politics- she’s former senator Paul Simon’s daughter- give her an added advantage.

Illinois- 13: This is another theoretically dead-even district that is nonetheless historically Republican. As a strong proponent of getting more scientists to run for office, I support the unlikely candidacy of Leellen Solter, who is the director of the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana.

Illinois- 14: The 14th consists of Chicago’s exurbs, up to the Wisconsin border. Steve Chirico, the new mayor of Naperville, would be my pick to represent this area. His success as a small business owner and his keen focus on teamwork and cooperation has the potential to translate into some crossover votes from this district’s Romney supporters.

Indiana- 02: For the last couple of years, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, has been touted as perhaps the nation’s premier up-and-coming Democrat. I’m going to save him for a later installment, and suggest that Jackie Walorski be challenged by Brendan Mullen. Mullen ran for this seat in 2012 and lost to Walorski by a percentage point and a half. This West Point vet has the potential to win this seat in a Democratic year and keep it Democratic. He’s a good fit for this working-class, post-industrial district. Like Senator Joe Donnelly, who once held this seat, he is cautiously pro-life and opposed to most forms of gun control.

Iowa- 01: Midwestern, rural, religious, and overwhelmingly white, Iowa took a sharp dive from being slightly more Democratic than the nation as a whole in the last two elections to  going for Donald Trump by nearly 10 points in 2016. Despite being rated D+5 by Cook’s PVI index, this district is held by a Republican, Rod Blum of Dubuque. More than any other state perhaps, Iowa needs to build a Democratic bench to challenge its Republican governor and two Republican senators in what is still by many metrics a swing state. She’s the same age as Taylor Swift, but state legislator Abby Finkenauer could have what it takes to win back this district. She’s wise beyond her years- focused, driven, a gifted orator, skilled at crafting a narrative, and learned on a few key issues, such as student debt.

Iowa- 03: I love that Iowa is one of the least gerrymandered states in the country. It makes all four of its districts compact and competitive. The 3rd covers Iowa’s southwest quadrant and is listed as dead even on the Cook PVI. My pick is former Iowa House member Ed Fallon. Fallon is a politician for people who don’t really like politicians. The Des Moines resident is a solid progressive, a multi-instrumentalist, and a former community organizer. He made a noble try at the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, falling to the well-funded Chet Culver, whose dad had been a senator from Iowa in the 1970s. He has lately been active in climate change activism and was a strong supporter of Sanders during the Iowa caucuses.

Michigan- 03: Historically, this Grand Rapids-based district is about Republican as it gets. Gerald Ford was once the congressman from this area, as was one of my favorite Republicans of the 1980s, Paul Henry. Presently, the district is represented by a big wheel- the young Tea Party acolyte Justin Amash. How to win such an uphill battle near Battle Creek? I’d look to Rosalynn Bliss, the new mayor of Grand Rapids- and the first woman ever to serve in that office. She is technically non-partisan (which helps in a Republican district) but a lot of signals- her admiration for Debbie Stabenow, her background as a social worker- suggest a left-of-center orientation. Her record can also appeal to erstwhile social conservatives- she helped shut down a number of the region’s strip clubs.

Michigan- 06: Taking up southwest Michigan, this district leans ever so slightly Republican, and could be won with the right candidate. Enter Kalamazoo native Eric Fanning– a defense specialist who served as Obama’s final Secretary of the Army, the acting Secretary of the Air Force and as chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense.

Michigan- 07: Southeastern Michigan- as well as the capital of Lansing- are encompassed by the 7th district. This is prime Rust Belt territory- it went from supporting Obama by 6 points in 2008 to supporting Trump by 17 points in 2016, a remarkable change for only eight years. Nevertheless, where the lash is strongest, the backlash is greatest. Before losing his seat to Tim Walberg in 2010, Mark Schauer had a promising career ahead of him- and he’s probably chomping at the bit to resume that career. He made a good fight of his gubernatorial race against Rick Snyder in 2014, losing by only four points against an incumbent Republican governor in a heavily Republican year. He’s hitting all the right populist notes, and his opposition to right-to-work will serve him well in heretofore heavily-unionized Michigan.

Michigan- 08: The 8th covers much of Lansing and some of the Detroit exurbs.For a while, Suzanna Shkreli, a first-generation Albanian-American was making a race of it, before incumbent Mike Bishop pulled ahead in this very Trump-friendly district. As buyer’s remorse afflicts the upper midwest, Shkreli deserves a second chance to take this seat. At only 29- and already an assistant prosecutor of Macomb County- she’ll have a long career to look forward to.

Michigan- 11: The suburban parts of Wayne County are covered by this district- which has a notably high 8% Asian population. David Curson has what it takes to win the 11th- in fact, he’s done it before. When its previous representative, Thaddeus McCotter, left office, Curson won a special election before opting not to run for a full term in 2012. Although he’ll be 70 years old- a tough age for a freshman congressman- his work with United Auto Workers harkens closer a more wholesome idea of what made America great- full employment, workers’ rights, and a robust labor movement.

Minnesota- 02: Angie Craig made a good race of this in 2016, losing to Jason Lewis by only 1.8%. I would be inclined to look elsewhere next time, however. Why not Ally LaTourelle? Her work with BioEconomy Partners has helped make Minnesota a center for clean energy and economic development. Her message is one that would resonant in the suburban areas of the Twin Cities, where her district is located. Her credo that environmentalism and economic development can reinforce- rather than short-circuit- each other is a winning message.

Minnesota- 03: This district also covers the Twin City suburbs and a piece of St. Paul. While I’ve tried to include as few scions as possible (which is harder than it looks), I’m going to make a glad exception here. David Wellstone is the son of Paul Wellstone, the progressive icon who perished in a plane crash over a decade ago. The elder Wellstone remains an icon among the left today- his conscientious vote against the Iraq War, and his legendary grassroots campaigning remain models that can be used today. Paul is back in the game and starting to engage in politics again, most notably as a mental health advocate. And if he follows his father’s playbook, he can help spur the next chapter of the DFL’s good, solid work in Minnesota.

Ohio- 01: This is a forbidding congressional district by all outward signs. Steve Chabot has held it for 20 out of the last 22 years. He was beaten in 2008, though, and he can be beaten again- and hopefully stay beaten. And P.G. Sittenfield is the man to do it.  Only 32 years old, he serves on the Cincinnati City Council, founded the city’s Community Learning Center, and is a board member for a food bank. He’s popular, young, and is widely regarded as one of the most promising young Democrats in a key swing state.

Ohio- 10: Covering a chunk of southwest Ohio, the 10th is a mashup of Rust Belt and Appalachian tendencies. It’s challenging, but I’ll bet Dayton mayor Nan Whaley could win. Her work to revitalize the downtown and bring in business investment will impress independent voters, while her work to make the city more bicycle friendly will surely make  the city’s hipsters and Bernie Bros delighted. More importantly, she’s committed to a diverse, open, welcoming Dayton- and it has helped make the city an emblem of Rust Belt revival.

Ohio- 16: John Boccierei was elected to this district in 2008 and was voted out in 2010. But his opponent, Jim Renacci, is a bastion of free-market conservatism that is an increasingly difficult sell in this region. Boccierei’s work in the Ohio state legislature and his tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq still make him a candidate to beat.

Wisconsin- 06: There are suburbs aplenty in this district, which covers the outlying areas of Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay. Town politics and bread-and-butter issues play big here, creating an opportunity for Manitowoc mayor Justin Nickels. Nickels is a wunderkind- he was first elected mayor when he was 22 years old, and just turned 30 this month. Yet he is a serious policy wonk, and can get a message out effectively in an environment when Wisconsin’s suburbs are tilting strongly toward a Scott Walker-ish right.

Wisconsin- 07: This is a gigantic district, nearly taking up the northern half of the state. In times past, this was the domain of long-time congressman David Obey, who opted not to run in 2010. Since then, the district is represented by Sean Duffy, a model of the Tea Party-aligned, Grover Norquist-affiliated Republicanism. A pleasant alternative is provided by state assemblyman Nick Milroy of Superior, Wisconsin- who is also a biology professor and a fisherman of some renown.

Wisconsin- 08: There aren’t many Democratic state legislators who represent an area other than Madison or Milwaukee. But 34-year-old Amanda Stuck is one of them, representing Appleton and specializing in environmental and housing issues. In a theoretically competitive state assembly district, she didn’t even get a challenger in 2016 and was re-elected unopposed.

Wisconsin- 01: Hold on a minute; I’m not quite done yet. If we are really going to think seriously about winning the House of Representatives, we need to consider a challenge to Paul Ryan’s district, which might be thought of as Milwaukee’s suburbs and Chicago’s exurbs. On paper, this district is only slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole; in 2008, it voted for Obama and in 2012, it only went for Mitt Romney by about five points- despite Paul Ryan being on the ticket! And don’t think this is impossible- sitting Speakers have lost re-election campaigns before. Given the toxicity of Trump’s policies in well-educated and upwardly mobile suburbs, and given Paul Ryan’s heretofore ineffective attempts to rein the president in, Paul Ryan can and should face a serious, well-funded, conscientiously progressive challenge. I have two sterling candidates in mind. Wisconsin will rue re-electing Ron Johnson to the Senate in place of progressive superhero Russ Feingold. Feingold is a master of grassroots campaigning and a conscientious man- the only senator who voted against the PATRIOT Act. As a Jaynesville native, he could run a very credible challenge to Paul Ryan. My other idea might take you by surprise, but makes sense the more you think about it. And that’s Mark Ruffalo, who is also a native of this part of Wisconsin. Buffalo has rewritten the book on celebrity political activism, following a Bernie-ish model of social media engagement and forming The Solutions Project to move the U.S. toward a clean energy future. Wisconsin was the cradle of modern progressivism in America- and either one of these men can nudge the Badger State back to its destiny by nudging Paul Ryan out of a congressional seat he takes for granted.