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Democratic presidential candidates debate in the run-up to the New Hampshire primary. They each have staked out positions on democracy reform issues.

Democracy reform’s welcome arrival as a Democratic cause

Schmitt is director of the political reform program at New America, a nonpartisan think tank.

A presidential campaign is a contest of ideas, not just personalities. As candidates set out policy priorities and develop proposals, we learn more about what they care about, but we also see in their reflection what voters and party activists want to hear. The proposals that even the failed candidates embrace, and the priority they give them, can foreshadow ideas that will take hold in the future.

New America looked into how the major candidates for president have been talking about reform of democracy. We took an inventory of the ideas emerging in this high-intensity laboratory. What we found validated our colleague Lee Drutman's recent observation that "from the long arc of American political history, I see the bright flashing arrows of a new age of reform and renewal ahead."

Not since 1976, after Watergate and an earlier impeachment, has the vision of reforming democracy itself been as central to a presidential contest as it is now.

While curbing the influence of money in politics has been on the agenda in previous campaigns — it was central to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain's career, and Barack Obama emphasized restrictions on lobbying — the range of different democracy reform issues on the agenda this year is unprecedented. In the decade since the Citizens United v. FEC and Shelby County v. Holder decisions, citizens have been mobilized by concerns about voting rights, corruption and the relationship between economic and political power.

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President Trump has embraced some limits on the "revolving door" between lobbying and government, but he has appointed more lobbyists to key positions in three years than his two predecessors did in eight. Otherwise, Trump has not endorsed any elements of a political reform agenda, and promotes removing voters from the rolls.

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