“Have you decided who you’re voting for?” my older daughter asks, looking up from her bowl of Cheerios. She has posed this question to me nearly every morning for the past month or so.
Every time I offer the same weary sigh. “No, not yet.”
My daughter shakes her head, part mystified, part disgusted. “You better make up your mind,” she says.
Don’t I know it. Here we are, just days before Super Tuesday, and I am still wallowing in uncertainty. As a lifelong Democrat (and bleeding-heart pragmatist), it’s not at all clear to me who among the candidates vying for the nomination has the best chance to win the White House.
At 12, my daughter has a keen sense of just how agonizing this vote is for me. She remembers the anguish on my face the morning of November 9, 2016 when I told her America hadn’t elected its first female president, and that Donald Trump won. She remembers that two months after that, we made poster-board signs and, together with her younger sister, went to the Women’s March on Boston Common. And she knows that I have spent the past three years outwardly lamenting the havoc wreaked by Trump and counting down the days until he was booted out of office.
Usually, my vote in Massachusetts — this bluest of blue states — doesn’t count for much. But this year, fulfilling my civic duty feels different. I don’t want to squander this opportunity. I need to be strategic.
Usually, my vote in Massachusetts -- this bluest of blue states -- doesn’t count for much. But this year, fulfilling my civic duty feels different.
My daughter persists in asking me about my candidate of choice because I think that she, too, seeks clarity. Part of being a child is to constantly overestimate the power you have over the world—and by extension the control your parents’ have over it. My daughter might actually believe that as her mother goes, so goes the nation.
But as Tuesday draws nearer, I am wracked by indecision. The only solace: I am hardly alone. According to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 66% of Democrats report anxiety about the election, compared with 46% of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely to feel frustrated.
My standards are not insurmountable. I do not seek perfection. I do not need to be personally inspired. I do not necessarily need to want to have a beer with my candidate. I just want to feel basically aligned; I want to believe that he or she is fundamentally a decent human being; and — importantly, crucially, critically — I want this person to be able to beat Trump in November.
Politics aside, I am not convinced that the presumptive frontrunner, a cranky 78-year-old self-described socialist who had a heart attack five months ago, is the wisest choice to go up against our reigning Tyrant in Chief.
And so, I wade through the muck of indecision. I study polling data and watch every debate. I analyze the assets and liabilities of the non-Bernie alternatives. I try to imagine how each candidate might be perceived by swing voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There’s talent for sure, but each one has electoral shortcomings. Biden: experienced, but old, and often seems bumbling and out of touch. Warren: super smart, but tends to come off as preachy. Klobuchar: sensible, Midwestern, but always seems nervous. Buttigeig: dazzlingly articulate, but so green and maybe a little too slick. Bloomberg: moderate and clearly successful in business, but has mixed and troubling record.
I text my colleagues, out-of-state friends and family members for advice. Some are fervent supporters of a candidate — how I yearn for their confidence! Others are settling for who they perceive to be a safe bet. Many more are already resigned. “What difference does it make? Trump is going to be reelected anyway,” they say.
I play out scenarios in my head: If Joe Biden wins South Carolina — the polls are looking good, should I vote for him on Tuesday? If, on the other hand, Biden loses the Palmetto State, will voters finally coalesce on a different candidate?
I will vote for whoever the Democrats put up. But I desperately want that nominee to be our best shot.
Let’s be clear, I will vote for whoever the Democrats put up. But I desperately want that nominee to be our best shot. There is so much at stake in this election for our country, our climate, our public health, and my children who are, much to my pain and chagrin, coming of age in the Trump era.
As my daughter grabbed her lunch box and headed out the door for school this morning, she made an off-hand remark. “You should just vote for who you think will do the best job.”
"It's not that simple," I answered dismissively. “I need to be tactical.”
“OK,” she said, swinging her backpack over her shoulder. “Suit yourself.”
But after I sent her off on the bus and trudged back to my desk, I realized that she has a point. Maybe I’ve been overthinking this whole thing. Perhaps I don’t need a strategy. After all, I have no clue what will actually motivate swing voters on Election Day. All I can do is vote for the person who I think would actually be a great president if, God willing, she gets there.
Tomorrow when my daughter asks me who I am voting for, I will have answer.