Who Exactly Do Americans Want Leading Them?

The midterm elections left neither Democrats nor Republicans with a clear advantage heading into the next presidential campaign season. Donald Trump just announced his candidacy, but that’s not stopping other Republicans from considering jumping in. President Biden says he will make a decision about a re-election bid early next year; some Democrats say they don’t want him to run again, but it’s hardly obvious who else would be a formidable Democratic Party nominee in 2024.

It seems like America’s next presidential race is anybody’s game.

Well, not just anybody. Voters this month opted for a wide variety of leadership styles and policy priorities in their choices for governors, the House and the Senate, a set of results that left Times Opinion editors wondering: Who exactly do Americans want leading them? What type of candidate would they trust to take on issues most important to them, and who might be able to get them — and keep them — excited about voting in two (long!) years?

So we posed those questions to our readers. In more than 10,000 responses we heard from a lot of Democrats, yes, but also Republicans, independents, Libertarians, centrists, conservatives, liberals and those who reject political labels altogether. Keep reading to find out who has caught their attention as they begin their journey to Election Day 2024.

A hero for the working class

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As a Catholic and former Democrat, I find the current G.O.P. toxic and dangerous. I lean toward the Democrats, especially on social justice issues and foreign policy. But I find the left wing of the party insufferable. The party’s reflexive, one-dimensional position on abortion (like the G.O.P.’s) is beyond understanding, and its tolerance for the left’s cancel culture is absurd.

I’d like a Midwesterner with some cachet among rural and working-class voters, a whole population that the Democrats largely walked away from over the past 50 years. Gretchen Whitmer, Sherrod Brown or Amy Klobuchar might fit the bill. — Bruce Daigle, 68, independent, Rhode Island

John Fetterman seems to cut through the typical political obfuscation and virtue signaling and connect with people in an honest way. He seems like someone in my family and doesn’t pretend to be fancy or superior. — Stacey Atwell-Keister, 45, Democrat, Roseburg, Ore.

A centrist who can unite us

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I think it’s time for a centrist party or to eliminate parties altogether. The two-party system is at the foundation of the “us versus them” mentality plaguing the country today.Till then, there are several possibilities on my list: Mark Kelly, Big Gretch [Gretchen Whitmer] and my soon-to-be former governor, the Honorable Larry Hogan — a purple governor of a bluish-purple state. — Didi Peck, 64, unaffiliated, Greenbelt, Md.

I am moderate, pragmatic and purple. I’d like to see gerrymandering rendered moot, candidates of both parties tackle real reform in the tax code to relieve the middle class, fair immigration policy, energy diversity or independence, more U.S. manufacturing and environmental protections. And I’d like to see some Midwestern common sense candidates run — people like Jon Tester, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Kelly and Janet Mills. — Jayne Johnsen-Seeberger, 68, Democrat, Long Island, N.Y.

Someone to lure the elusive swing voter

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I’m a third-party voter but have held my nose and voted with the Democrats since Trump’s presidency. But to be successful in the long term, they need to stop taking the nonwhite vote for granted and make further inroads in rural, nonmetropolitan areas. Gretchen Whitmer has a demonstrated record of success in a key swing state and has done some massively successful party-building this year. I think she would elevate herself even more on the national level. — Colin Zentmeyer, 23, D.C. Statehood Green Party, Columbia, Mo.

I’d like to see the Democrat Mitch Landrieu of Louisiana run for president. He is currently a senior adviser to President Biden and the coordinator for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. More importantly, he built a coalition of whites and Blacks as mayor of New Orleans, bringing in new investment to the city as well as reforming city bureaucracy and the police force. He’s proven he can unite Democrats, both pragmatic and progressive. Being a Southern white male Democrat — already a rarity — he might also bring Southern and Western conservatives or independents to his ticket. And he’s younger than President Biden in a time when America needs strong physical and mental leadership. — Miles Abernethy, 22, Democrat, Blacksburg, Va.

First, I have some conditions …

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As a member of Gen Z, I see only one issue on the 2024 ballot: climate change. I am registered as a Democrat, but only for the purpose of voting in the primaries. I do not consider myself to be aligned with any particular party. My ideal candidate would have a decisive plan for major action on climate change and be unabashedly pro-labor. Moreover, I want to elect a president who is firmly convinced that these issues require immediate attention, and who will not be swayed by bribes and empty promises. The only candidate who meets these criteria is Bernie Sanders. — Meg Dillingham McCullough, 24, Democrat, Brookline, Mass.

I want an honest candidate, either Republican or Democratic, with a platform that will stabilize the economy, preserve the U.S. commitment to NATO and the climate accords, guarantee access to health care for all citizens and have a sensible solution for immigration. A campaign of sound bites and lies must be avoided. A young candidate with new ideas would be ideal. — Sharon Tauber, 75, Republican, Florida

I’m moderate and like moderates from both parties. I want to see a unifier; the country is weaker when we are divided, and Adam Kinzinger has proven to care more about public service than power. But I won’t support the Republican Party again until they drain their own swamp. And I’m not in favor of the Democratic Party becoming more progressive. — Nathan Dunkel, 41, Democrat, Atlanta

A candidate that would lean to the left

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I align with the Democratic Party of my youth. That used to mean individual liberty, as in pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and socioeconomic mobility. Republicans have been successful shifting political dialogue to the right, and Democrats have countered with social elitism and big spending rather than working on substantive policy for issues like the environment and economic measures to help the middle class. They need to go further left in local races and safe districts to energize the base, but find common-ground candidates for Senate, gubernatorial and national races.

Mark Kelly, Raphael Warnock and Gretchen Whitmer have strong liberal values but also some crossover appeal. The best is the one who can represent core Democratic values without alienating the rural and blue-collar voters that used to be the base. — Elliott H., 46, independent, Salt Lake City

I have felt forced to align myself with the Democratic Party my entire life. I registered with them in 2015 so that I could vote for Senator Sanders, but there is nearly nothing they have done that I am happy about. The message is: Vote for us or they will make it even worse. True enough, but hardly inspiring.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the only leader in America right now who has what this nation so desperately needs: not only the critical policies that are the only hope for our future — much higher taxes on the rich and corporations, a real safety net, Medicare for all, real climate action, worker’s rights, voting rights and human rights — but also the intelligence, grit and charisma it takes to inspire and lead people. But that isn’t very likely, is it? So I guess I’m just going to have to vote against open fascism like I have all my life. Sigh. — Paul Chhabra, 57, Democrat, Shelton, Conn.

Look to the right

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I’m Black and a lifelong Democrat, but I would vote for Liz Cheney in a heartbeat if she decided to leave the Republican Party. She’s shown more backbone and ethical behavior lately than anyone in either party. She sacrificed her career to be on the right side of history. Her passion and levelheadedness under pressure makes her a keeper in my book. Democrats need to be more vocal and get into the fray. Only recently did they appear to take the threats to our country’s democracy seriously. And they need to stop taking minority votes for granted. — Patricia Walker, 70, Democrat, Connecticut

I align with the Republican Party. I’m happy with their openness to solving problems through the free market rather than through government programs. And I would like to see them assert America’s leadership role on the world stage rather than embracing increasingly isolationist policies. Hillary Clinton is cleareyed about her economic policies, experienced on the world stage and is in the best position to capitalize on the social issues that are important to many voters. — Thomas Larrison, 28, unaffiliated, Tampa, Fla.

Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, if he runs with a moderate Democrat. Rebuilding American industry by growing jobs in infrastructure and support of community colleges, trades and green industry training are all very important to me, but Dems need a simple and clear message on issues like the border, crime, climate change and jobs. — Edmund Lee, 63, Democrat, Huntington, N.Y.

I’m a registered Republican, but I’m really more of an independent or Libertarian. I want smaller, less obtrusive government, which is something neither major party will ever deliver. I want someone younger than Trump or Biden, and a good selection of people to choose from who will focus on crime, immigration and the economy. I would like to hear from a variety of candidates. Among the Republicans, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo or Mike Pence. Among the Democrats, Gretchen Whitmer, Gavin Newsom and Amy Klobuchar. — Rick Peterson, 64, Republican, Papillion, Neb.

Let’s stick with what’s working, or close to it

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Joe Biden is the most successful Democratic president since L.B.J. in terms of significant legislative accomplishments. Republicans can’t seem to find a coherent way to paint him. He’s either a terrifyingly left-wing revolutionary plotting to destroy America or a senile old man who can’t talk without a prompter. I don’t see a very deep Democratic bench right now, and definitely no one with a real national profile like DeSantis or Trump, so Biden seems like the right move. — Joe Killiany, 44, Democrat, Washington, D.C.

I ceased being a Republican in 2016. Now I identify as an independent and frequently vote against the Republican rather than for the Democrat. I am pleased with this administration’s return to serious, calm governance, but as a baby boomer I firmly believe it is far past time to pass on the mantle. Pete Buttigieg ticks all the buttons for me: He is intelligent, articulate, willing to work across party lines for compromise. — Karen Whitley, 65, independent, Mississippi

I don’t need to be excited to vote. It is my duty to vote and use all the common sense and research I can when doing so. I want Biden to run in 2024. The nation has been too stressed and traumatized to needlessly cut this president’s second term. It is too early to begin yet another horse race. We need to decompress. — Celeste Pettijohn, 72, Democrat, Florida

Anyone who can put Trump in the rearview mirror

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I have always voted Republican (the only Democrat I was even close to voting for was Andrew Yang), and although I am disappointed that the red wave turned out to be a red ripple, in many ways I am pleased. I point the loss squarely at Trump. He is a disgrace. And he is dangerous. I want him out. I’m hoping this midterm election loss may finally allow the party to give Mr. Trump, along with his wild conspiracies, denialism, narcissism and provocative antics, the boot.

Long term, I am hoping that Ron DeSantis can win a presidential victory in 2024. He is smart, articulate, bold, principled and a veteran. He pushes back on progressive orthodoxy. I hope his election will force Democrats to look at themselves and force them to finally push away their dislikable and threatening obsession with wokeism. — Andres Gonzales, 32, Republican, Austin, Texas

I would like to see a populist or centrist, white, Christian, heterosexual man who can appeal to Republicans run — and I’m a progressive, atheist woman. To run against Trump we need a nominee that can get the crossover voters. Give me Andy Beshear, Jon Tester or Mark Kelly. We need to be pragmatic, sacrifice “me” for “we.” — Jane Martin Buckley, 62, Democrat, Louisville, Ky.

Any Republican who stands up against Trump appeals to me. I’ve voted Republican my whole life, but I refuse to vote for him or anyone who supports him. — Tom MacMillan, 63, Republican, Illinois

My ideal candidate would be plain-spoken, direct and even blunt. Zero political-speak and zero clichés. Tough and not afraid to tell the unvarnished truth about our problems and what we must do to solve them, even if it offends or alienates some. Folks yearn for that. Trump gets it but his directness is all lies. Imagine if it was the truth. — Ron Kammann, 77, Democrat, San Francisco

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