For the second presidential cycle in a row, a crowded field of candidates has emerged in the race to claim a major party’s nomination. The sheer number of hats in the ring could produce a nominee outside the small coterie most pundits expect to win out. Dubious? Just think about 2016.

In the last presidential election, most of the Republican candidates were seen as beacons of the “establishment.” With Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, John Kasich and Chris Christie all competing to win the hearts and minds of more moderate GOP primary voters, Donald Trump won by collecting support from Republicans with an appetite for a different brand of candidate — and he succeeded. In other words, the crowded field opened the door for an outsider who was (and could still be) largely out of step with many others inside his own party.

This time, the situation is flipped. Democrats are the party with the crowded field. But maybe more important, many Democratic candidates are not focusing on winning over moderate voters. Quite the opposite; they’re keyed on winning over the Democratic Party’s base voters and others on the far left. If history repeats itself, these candidates will end up slicing that electorate into such small portions that they could open the door for a competitor with a different message and outlook.

No one knows who will emerge as the Democratic nominee, and the widely held presumption that the 2016 race would be yet another contest between someone named Bush and someone named Clinton should give prognosticators pause. But the crowded field among Democratic candidates signals that the unexpected today might seem inevitable tomorrow. Voters eager to see a candidate emerge with a promise of getting Democrats and Republicans to work collaboratively should stay engaged.

Nancy Jacobson is a founder of the nonprofit organization No Labels. You can follow the organization on Twitter: @NoLabelsOrg.


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