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ANDREW SHURTLEFF/THE DAILY PROGRESS Jamelle Bouie, opinion columnist for the New York Times, is projected on the big screen as he answers a question during the Presidential Ideas Festival Wednesday at the University of Virginia.

If there’s one thing that’s certain about the 2020 presidential election, it’s that nothing is certain.

The University of Virginia’s Presidential Ideas Festival focused on the upcoming election on Wednesday with a panel led by Larry J. Sabato, director of the school’s Center for Politics.

Sabato was joined by Karl Rove, a senior adviser to former President George W. Bush; Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC; Jamelle Bouie, an opinion columnist for The New York Times; and Amy Walter, national editor for The Cook Political Report.

Although the race for the Democratic nomination isn’t totally clear yet, the panelists agreed that former Vice President Joe Biden is the frontrunner among 24 declared candidates.

“With 24,000 candidates, it’s difficult to say how it’s going to play out,” Rove said. “And it’s a fool’s errand right now.”

The panelists said Biden’s main challengers to unseat President Donald Trump are U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

In a summary of May polls by RealClearPolitics, Biden is supported by 38% of likely voters, followed by Sanders with 18, Warren with 10 and Harris with 7. The remaining 27% of the poll is split among the other 20 Democratic candidates.

Bouie pointed out that Jeb Bush was the Republican frontrunner at this point in the 2016 presidential race and, in 2007, Hillary Clinton was expected to win the Democratic nomination over Barack Obama and others.

For someone to win the nomination over Biden, Bouie said the candidates need to say they’re more electable than Biden rather than “stay in their lanes” or go after each other.

Rove said candidates like Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock aren’t viable candidates. He said former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas has also faded from the spotlight. O’Rourke has dropped from third to sixth in polling averages since February.

Bouie compared Biden’s candidacy to those of moderate Democrats such as Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in 2017. He said a moderate might have more support nationally than someone who is more liberal.

The people who will make the difference, Rove said, are the swing voters rather than party stalwarts. Biden has a better chance of winning over people in the middle than a more liberal candidate, Rove said.

Biden will fare well with moderate Democrats, Matthews said, because businessman Michael Bloomberg and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe decided to not run and won’t take support from him.

Looking ahead to the main issues of the elections, Matthews said he expects Trump to push immigration and abortion and will paint his opponents as socialists.

The panelists discussed Trump’s low approval rating and said that it’s important where that disapproval lies due to the Electoral College’s effect on the path to the White House.

“It’s incredibly strong in places like California,” Walter said. “But the Democratic nominee needs it to be a strong in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”

As much as Sabato lamented that a discussion on the race could last all day, it did come to an end, though the Presidential Ideas Festival continues Thursday.

“We haven’t resolved anything about the Democratic side,” Sabato said, “but did you expect that?”

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274,, or @nstoutDP on Twitter.

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