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The 5 biggest 2020 storylines to watch this week

Welcome to 2020! With just 15 days until the Iowa caucuses, the 2020 election is already in full swing. Every Sunday, I outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked — so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.

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5. The age thing: Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg turns 38 years old Sunday. That makes him 40 years younger than Sen. Bernie Sanders, 39 years younger than former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 35 years younger than President Donald Trump, 32 years younger than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 21 years younger than Sen. Amy Klobuchar and five years younger than me.

So what? Well, that depends on who you ask. Buttigieg’s supporters believe his youth is a giant asset — providing him a fresh perspective on long intractable problems. His detractors argue that he is — and I am paraphrasing here — just some punk kid.

Is Buttigieg’s age a decisive factor to voters — to the good or bad? We just don’t know definitively yet. But one thing we do know is that most Democrats don’t think any of the four frontrunners are the ideal age to be president.

In a Pew poll in 2019, less than 10% of Democrat said the ideal age for a president was the 30s (6%) or the 70s (3%). The 50s was the preferred age by a near-majority of Democrats (47%) followed by the 40s (25%) and the 60s (16%).

If age does matter, those numbers are good news for Klobuchar (she’s 59) and me (43!). Of course, only one of us is running for president.

4. Vice presidential tryouts: A sub-plot of the Trump impeachment trial set to start Tuesday in Washington — MUCH more on that below — is that the two names most mentioned as leading VP picks for the eventual Democratic nominee will be in the chambers: Sens. Kamala Harris (California) and Cory Booker (New Jersey).

Both Harris and Booker dropped out of the 2020 race after campaigns that never realized their full potential. But both are appealing veep picks for any of the top four candidates still in the race — all of whom are white and three of whom are septuagenarians.

Booker and Harris are both African American. They are on the young side — for politics. (Harris is 55, Booker is 50). And they both had moments during the campaign that showcased their considerable natural skills as candidates.

Booker acknowledged he was open to serving as the vice presidential, nominee earlier this month and Biden floated Harris as a potential VP pick in an interview with the Sacramento Bee last week.

While they won’t be the focus of attention, you can be sure the 2020 campaigns will be watching how Booker and Harris do as they consider second-in-command’s.

3. How many Iowa tickets?: Conventional wisdom has dictated for decades that a top three finish in Iowa is essential to continue as a viable candidate in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

But how are we keeping score? Unlike in years past, the Iowa Democratic Party will be releasing three numbers from the caucus: 1) total delegates won 2) raw vote before non-viable candidates are eliminated 3) final raw vote. (For much more on all of this, check this out.)

All of which means there are going to be a lot of numbers floating around after February 3. And candidates will be able to latch onto whatever set of numbers make their case best. (For their part, the Associated Press has said it will name a winner in Iowa based, as in the past, on the delegate totals.)

Combine the three sets of numbers with the high likelihood the race between at least the top four candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren) is going to be very close — if polling is to be believed — and you have a recipe for much more of a muddle than in years past out of Iowa.

Over to you, New Hampshire!

2. The ‘woman’ controversy, continued: Less than a week removed from insisting that the other had called them a liar on a national debate stage, Sanders and Warren don’t seem to have much interest in talking any more about whether the former told the latter he didn’t think a woman could be elected president in 2020.

In Iowa on Saturday, a woman at a campaign event told Warren: “I believe you 100% because I looked at you and I looked at him and I thought, he did that. I know Bernie Sanders did those things to you.” To which the Massachusetts senator responded, in part: “I knew Bernie, and worked with him on a whole lot of issues … and that’s all I want to say about that topic.”

Bernie broke the seal on Sunday — addressing the issue directly. “The world has changed,” he said in an interview with New Hampshire public radio. “And to those people who think that a woman cannot be elected you’re dead wrong.” Sanders added of his conversation with Warren that he didn’t ‘want to get into what was a private conversation.'”

Is that the end? Probably — given that neither candidate has shown a ton of of interest in engaging with one another on it.

1. Impeachment, and Iowa: As of Tuesday, three of the five best-polling candidates in Iowa — Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar — will effectively be off the campaign trail, back in Washington to sit as jurors in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

This is widely regarded as a bad thing. Because that trio — unlike Biden and Buttigieg — won’t be able to spend every waking minute of this fortnight meeting Iowans in their homes, schools and restaurants.

And it may be! But this campaign has been nationalized in ways we’ve never really seen before. Candidate visits to early voting states — including Iowa — are way down as going on cable TV or tweeting has, in some cases, replaced the coffee klatch with around 10 Iowa voters.

So, consider this possibility: With the eyes of the country on Washington and the impeachment trial, Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar may well get as much, if not more, attention nationally than Biden and Buttigieg slugging it out every day in the freezing climes of Iowa.

And if that does happen, then being “stuck” in Washington might not seem like such a bad thing.

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