- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Democrats’ surprisingly strong showing in the midterm elections has created a crop of future party leaders, and some are wondering whether that future might be now.

As President Biden ponders a reelection run in 2024, tongues are wagging about some of the party’s Generation X rising stars, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist who helped steer Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s surprising 2020 presidential campaign, said the party has more depth than people tend to think.

“Democrats have a deep bench. It just happens that many of our biggest stars are located outside of Washington,” she said. “We need to stop thinking the world revolves around members of Congress and senators and start looking to our states and cities.”

Ms. Whitmer’s stock is on the rise after her clear-cut reelection win over her Trump-backed rival in Michigan. She led a Democratic ticket that flipped both chambers of the Legislature.

Mr. Shapiro also is attracting attention after notching a landslide victory over his Trump-backed rival in the governor’s race, beefing up a resume that is closing in on two decades of public service and showcasing a rare ability to articulate a vision to voters.

David Dix, a Philadelphia-based political strategist who has worked with both parties, said Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Shapiro will start getting closer looks for 2024 if Mr. Trump’s recently announced campaign sputters.

“After former President Trump announced he is going to run in 2024, I have heard a bit of fervor around Biden being almost the only candidate who could substantially take on Trump and win,” Mr. Dix said. “Should it appear Trump is not the leading candidate … you are going to hear from some Democrats interested in hitting the reset button.”

He said, “2024 is either going to be a rerun of the 2020 election or be a bold step forward for both parties.”

Mr. Biden turned 80 this month. His age has become a point of contention for Democrats who see the 2024 presidential election as a chance to turn the page and have tried to put their finger on possible alternatives. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, 58, has long been considered someone who could step in and take the reins of the party, but she would not start as the prohibitive favorite thanks to an unsteady performance in her short 2020 campaign for president and an equally unsteady performance as vice president on the national and international stage.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who won the Iowa caucuses and finished a close second in New Hampshire in the 2020 presidential primary before endorsing Mr. Biden, also could jump in. 

As secretary of transportation, Mr. Buttigieg has traveled the country doling out federal money for roads and bridges and strengthened his reputation as one of the best communicators in the party.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory A. Booker of New Jersey also have been floated, as have New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Stacey Abrams and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke were once hot prospects in Democratic politics, but their support has cooled dramatically after back-to-back statewide losses in Georgia and Texas.

Ms. Smith, the Democratic strategist, said it’s time for a generational change in the party’s leadership. 

“As a party, we should be elevating next-generation governors like Gretchen Whitmer and Josh Shapiro — two candidates who built broad coalitions and blew out their elections this year,” Ms. Smith said. “If Pete Buttigieg showed us one thing in 2020, it’s that there is a tremendous hunger for fresh voices outside the Beltway.

“It’s just incumbent on us to look for them and lift them up,” she said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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