In the not-too-distant past, Van Hollen's credentials as a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, and on the fast-track within House leadership would make him a solid favorite for the nomination. But Edwards, who was just elected in 2008 and defeated a Democratic incumbent to do so, is betting on the power of identity to overcome her lack of experience. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's early endorsement of Van Hollen will mean little compared with the support Edwards could rack up in African-American communities from Baltimore to Prince George's County. That, combined with support from the Democratic powerhouse EMILY's List, which backs and funds female Democratic candidates, make her a formidable challenger.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, Reid has been working to clear the Democratic field for a Hispanic up-and-comer, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, as his chosen successor. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is reportedly already rallying behind her campaign, even though Rep. Dina Titus has indicated she's very interested in running as well. It's a no-brainer of a move, given how important the state's growing Hispanic vote has become. But it also underscores how important it is to run a familiar face to help turn out and rally Hispanic voters to the polls next November.
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Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.
Yet among minorities, the Democratic advantage has mostly held or increased—even from the high-water mark of 2008 for Democrats. Pew found 81 percent of blacks identified as Democrats in 2008; that proportion is now 80 percent. Democrats have lost some support from Hispanics since Obama's landslide in 2008, but it's at higher levels than before Obama's presidency. In 2014, 56 percent of Latinos identified as Democrats—a larger share than when Democrats swept Congress in 2006 (51 percent). And the fast-growing bloc of Asian-American voters now consider themselves more Democratic than when Obama first took office—in 2008, 57 percent identified with the Democrats, while 65 percent now do. To get these voters to show up, Democrats need to recruit candidates who reflect their newfound diversity.
One of the paradoxes of today's Democratic Party is that, despite the increasing importance of a diversified voting coalition, the party is drastically underrepresented by talented nonwhite politicians in its congressional, gubernatorial, and statewide ranks. The great irony of Obama's presidency is that by playing to his progressive base so much, Obama oversaw the collapse of his party at the local level—and it's depriving Democrats of compelling, viable presidential recruits who reflect the changed nature of the party for 2016 and beyond.