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Biden Isn’t the Only 2020 Moderate Who Thinks He Can Win

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“The Democratic Party is going through the process of deciding if we want Joe Biden to be the nominee or not,” former Representative John Delaney of Maryland told me, waiting to board the plane in Washington, D.C., for what was his 29th trip to Iowa a week and a half ago. “He has 100 percent name ID, he’s very well liked, and he’s polling really well. If the Democratic Party decides for a variety of reasons that he may not be the best nominee, then I think it becomes wide open for other, more moderate-oriented candidates.”

Delaney has already been to all of Iowa’s 99 counties. He’s made another 19 trips to New Hampshire. He’s been going at it for two years, and so far, what he has to show for it is 1 or maybe 2 percent in the polls, and the notoriety among insiders for throwing himself so hard into running a race no one believes he can win. His biggest splash so far came from delivering a speech at the California Democratic Party convention earlier this month in which he opposed Medicare for All, only to be told on Twitter by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising Democratic star, that he should drop out. When her office turned down Delaney’s offer to have a debate, her friend, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, jumped in, tweeting “No means no!”

Delaney is a self-made multimillionaire from two companies he founded, and though he’s largely self-funding his campaign, he has nowhere near Bloomberg-level money. What Delaney believes he has, though, is the freedom and guts to say what most of his opponents won’t, such as the idea that most Americans don’t want to give up their private insurance plans, as they’d have to under the current version of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill.

“Everyone is afraid to say it in the Democratic Party, but if our nominee runs on Medicare for All, the Republicans won’t be afraid to say it,” Delaney told me. “In fact, they’ll probably spend a billion dollars, sending messages to the American people that one of the most important things in your life, your health insurance, which 100 million people like, according to polling, the Democrats are going to make illegal.”  

Walking through the farmers’ market in Des Moines, I watched Delaney make this case to Jenny and Joe Newman, a couple who had driven an hour in from Ames to see several of the Democratic candidates speak. “I just don’t know why we’ve got to shock the system,” Delaney told them. “I agree with you,” Jenny Newman responded. Afterward, they told me they hadn’t realized that Medicare for All would get rid of private insurance, and Joe Newman said that working as a podiatrist, he wasn’t sure whether that was the best idea.

If the Newmans’ sentiments are representative of a larger population, it’s theoretically good news for Delaney. But that’s a big if. After our conversation, I watched him walk five blocks back to his car through the farmers’ market, with not one person appearing to recognize him.

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