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Prospective Democratic Presidential Candidates Put Their Ideas on Audition

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Class and Race

The debate over whether President Trump’s surprise 2016 victory was attributable more to economic jitters or to social and racial anxiety can at times seem academic. But left-leaning adversaries spend so much time and ink on it for a reason: Answering correctly could be the difference between defeating the president in 2020, and not.

On Tuesday, the judgment rendered by multiple potential candidates was that it was both. Improving the lives of the working class and appealing to white voters who deserted the party (while not giving ground on commitments to racial equality and immigration that are bedrocks of Democratic orthodoxy) are, many suggested, two birds properly killed by the same stone.

“If we’re going to be a progressive movement, it’s about civil rights and workers’ rights, and it’s also about raising wages,” said Mr. Brown, the Ohio senator, who is often held up as the kind of politician — white, Midwestern, skeptical of free trade — who could win back Trump voters in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that tipped the Electoral College to Mr. Trump.

“Regardless of race,” Mr. Brown added.

Mr. Booker, the New Jersey senator and former mayor of Newark, said that he had traveled the country to learn about these voters (and read “Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir about being poor and white in Appalachia) only to find that “these folks have so much in common with folks that live in my neighborhood.”

“We in this country have a common pain, but we are lacking a sense of common purpose,” he said. Adopting “big ideas” and making commensurately large investments would cure what ails both southern Ohio and northern New Jersey, he suggested.

Mr. Castro, the former cabinet official who also served as mayor of San Antonio, noted in his speech that Michael Brown, a black man whose killing by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 was a touchstone for a national conversation about race and policing, had reportedly been days from beginning a program at a trade college when he was shot.

“The needs of human beings are much more similar than they are different,” Mr. Castro said in an interview. He added, “The frame I’m using is people’s needs, and it’s broader than just economic or social.”


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