Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Clinton, Biden and a post-Obama Democratic Party?

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
updated 7:44 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced in 2013 that he would not be seeking re-election, leading to speculation he might mount a second White House bid. Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced in 2013 that he would not be seeking re-election, leading to speculation he might mount a second White House bid.
HIDE CAPTION
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
Potential 2016 presidential candidates
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Zelizer: If they run in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden need new ideas
  • He says a number of mayors and governors provide clues for new Democratic agenda
  • Zelizer says the focus from governors and mayors is on middle-class security
  • Zelizer cites Mayors Bill de Blasio, Julian Castro and Govs. Andrew Cuomo, Martin O'Malley

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."

(CNN) -- With talk about the 2016 election heating up, most of the national media has turned the focus on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden.

Clinton and Biden would be formidable candidates. Either would be a logical successor to President Barack Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party.

Yet if they are to be successful, they will need to look outside the beltway to learn about the kinds of issues that are animating voters outside of Washington. They would do well to draw on some of the ideas that have been percolating in recent months from newer voices in the party.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

And at a time when politicians can suffer quick downfalls, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is learning, Democrats would do well to make sure that they have other potential candidates who can compete on the national stage, should Clinton or Biden fail to materialize as 2016 candidates.

Inside Politics: Hillary Clinton's telling words about critics

How ready is Joe Biden for a 2016 run?
Conan has Biden's first presidential ad
A peek behind the Hillary curtain
Inside Politics: Hillary's strategy

Whoever runs, the future of the Democrats may lie in learning from two mayors, two governors and a gubernatorial candidate who are all building on the traditional Democratic theme of security -- a theme that has been central to the party since New Deal -- but trying to do so in new ways.

Democrats have an exciting group of mayors who have been garnering enthusiasm for their efforts to tackle the big economic and social issues that Washington seems incapable of resolving.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a full-scale attack on economic inequality. His campaign captured national attention when he spoke about the tale of two cities, one poor, struggling and devastated, and the other wealthy and thriving.

De Blasio kicked off his time in office with ambitious proposals for affordable housing as well as prekindergarten education. He's already run into obstacles, including tensions with New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who shot down his plan for a higher minimum wage. De Blasio has had to fend off complaints about snow removal and controversy over his call to a police official to ask about the arrest of a pastor, who has been one of his strong supporters. Still, the mayor has excited Democrats about the possibilities for the revitalization of urban liberalism.

Donna Brazile: Enough already with the obsession over Hillary Clinton

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, has devoted energy to the challenges facing Latinos in his city. He has made an impassioned plea to treat immigration as a human rights issue, urging Congress to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

He has also been addressing the issues that greatly concern working families, such as prekindergarten education and job creation. The mayor has been able to boast about its strong economic record in 2013, with growth in health care as well as oil and gas development, in addition to a thriving housing market. San Antonio is frequently placed in various Top 10 lists of thriving American cities.

Democratic governors have also been making waves. In Maryland, one potential 2016 presidential candidate, Martin O'Malley, has been responding to social and cultural changes that have been transforming the nation in recent years.

O'Malley has been one of the governors to preside over the legalization of medical marijuana and to oppose the death penalty. He championed economic and financial assistance to illegal immigrants, such as legislation that offers in-state tuition rates for universities.

He has also been a staunch supporter of tougher gun control, something that the national parties have failed to achieve even in the aftermath of horrendous shooting incidents. Maryland has made some notable progress in education as well as in attracting innovative companies to the state.

Gov. Cuomo in New York has tried to combine tough fiscal discipline with an ongoing commitment to the social safety net. Cuomo has demonstrated his willingness to question some political orthodoxies among Democrats.

Early in his term, Cuomo took on public employee unions and got big concessions from them in his effort to limit spending and taxes. Like O'Malley, he has supported same-sex marriage legislation.

Cuomo backed legislation that imposed higher taxes on wealthier New Yorkers earlier in his term, though he disagreed with de Blasio's push for further increases this year, when Cuomo is running for re-election. He, too, has obtained stricter gun controls at a time that the federal government seemed paralyzed on the issue

Another source of new ideas is Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security and former CNN contributor. She is seeking the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts governor against Martha Coakley.

Kayyem is running a campaign centered on the need for government to help restore security to middle-class families. Kayyem is proposing ideas to promote the interests of working women, including efforts to eliminate the wage gap and to enable affordable childcare.

She is tackling structural problems in the economy with ideas for improving public transportation and investing in community colleges. Building on her experience in government, she is also looking for better ways to provide physical security by dealing with vulnerable infrastructure that national policymakers have not done enough to protect.

Democrats are building a sizable farm team in the states, filled with new voices and innovative ideas that will play a big role in the coming years: support for education, educational assistance to immigrants, job growth programs, child care, gun controls and more. Only of few of these candidates might be ready for the national spotlight --like O'Malley and maybe Cuomo -- but the others might have bright futures on the horizon.

Given the gridlock in Washington, Clinton, Biden and anyone else running in 2016 would do well to look to the state and local level as they craft their agenda.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT