Jerry Kremer

What will be bigger than the election? The primary.

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The year 2020 promises to be a historic time for all Americans. It will be the year that voters choose a president, a new House of Representatives and a State Legislature. Many people think the next election is next November, but there will be a more critical contest early next year, when primary voters pick the candidates for the November ballot.

The primary elections will take place in or before next June. There is no question that voter turnout next November will be historic. But the real decisions will be made long before then, and if you care about your country, pay attention to when the primary contests take place.

It’s predictable that the more liberal Democratic voters will show up on primary day, and they’ll be joined by the more conservative Republicans. But if you, the voter, fail to participate on primary day, you could wind up with choices that are no choice at all.

The current battle for the Democratic presidential nomination offers a wide range of choices. On the left are Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. In the middle is former Vice President Joe Biden. There are other candidates, including Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, but for now they’re stuck in the second tier.

So it’s a three-way race among Biden, Sanders and Warren. It’s likely that Sanders, even with a massive war chest, will keep losing ground, and he’s being eclipsed by Warren. Warren has taken Sanders’s 2016 playbook and created her own, more comprehensive platform. Name a national issue, and Warren has a plan for it. So at this point, going into the 2020 primary season, it’s a Warren-Biden contest.

The dilemma for Democratic voters is, what choice will they have if Biden stumbles and the only survivor is Warren? Over the past year, she has proposed plan after plan, all of which would cost taxpayer money. While there is voter interest in “Medicare for all” and free college tuition, Warren has yet to tell the world how these programs would be paid for. Some voters will be attracted to taxing the rich, because they feel left out of the successes that others have experienced. But once the primary season is over, if Warren is the candidate, she may prove to be unelectable.

Democratic primary voters account for approximately one-third of the Democratic base. The other two-thirds are much more moderate. Up to now, Biden has survived a few stumbles because most Democrats want a normal candidate who can run the country without any tweets. Biden is the comfortable choice for voters who just want to get rid of Donald Trump and replace him with an experienced public official. Warren may be the choice of liberal primary voters, but she is incapable of moving to the center that is occupied by the majority of Democrats and independents.

Is there a backup candidate who will satisfy the moderates? Is there a person who can capture the imagination of independent voters and satisfy the desires of the far left? My friend Al D’Amato recently suggested that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg could be the candidate who inherits the Biden mantle. There is no doubt that Bloomberg is highly qualified to take on any challenge. But he knows the problems that an East Coast candidate would face, and probably won’t run.

For now, the primary field will be dominated by Biden and Warren, with Sanders huffing and puffing to stay in the race. In the interim, President Trump, whose family is busy doing business deals and trading on the family name, will keep calling Biden corrupt to change the impeachment dialogue. But whatever happens, next year’s primary will be more important than the November election. And if we don’t stay focused, we could wind up with four more years of Trump.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.