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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

In the 2020 race, which candidate's controversies matter to the people?

President Donald Trump in the White House Cabinet

President Donald Trump in the White House Cabinet Room on Thursday. Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Sen. Bernie Sanders has drawn suspicious questions because he kept putting off disclosure of his tax filings.

So what? President Donald Trump no longer even pretends he will reveal his taxes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a notoriously wispy claim to having Native American roots.

Big deal. Trump for some reason keeps claiming his Bronx-born father came from Germany.

Sen. Cory Booker got money and support from the pharmaceutical industry.

But drugmaker Pfizer also gave $1 million to Trump's inauguration fund.

The Democrats mentioned here belong to a long list of party hopefuls for president. In the year ahead, the potential persists for stories of scandal, secrets, mudslinging and attacks among them — all against targeted messages of cynicism and suspicion.

Does the game change when these challengers vies to face a president who paid hush money to a porn star and won in 2016 despite the famous "grab ’em" recording?

Ideally, all that would count is who'd best handle the job, protect liberties, and uphold the Constitution. People traditionally regard personal disgraces as beside the point, as showed by President Bill Clinton's high job-approval ratings during the Monica Lewinsky crisis.

Trump, despite low approval numbers, seems for now to have a fine chance of re-election, as you'd expect for a first-term incumbent.  

Ideally, the use of a candidate's biography in an election is not to judge a person's soul but to help make a choice based on what he or she might do in the White House. If so, candidates could debate job performance on real issues, from the border crisis to health insurance to taxes, corruption, tariffs and spending.

Former Vice President Joe Biden for years has been openly hands-on, huggy and touchy with women as well as with men. How would talk of this play out in a one-on-one contest given that more than 20 women have stepped forward over the years to accuse Trump of blatant sexual misconduct?

Some progressives dislike the hard-line law-and-order policies Sen. Kamala Harris enforced as San Francisco's district attorney and California's attorney general.

For his part, Trump told Border Patrol agents in Harris' home state to turn back migrants seeking asylum although doing so would be illegal. 

Ex-aides say Sen. Amy Klobuchar rained abuse on her staff. As president, Trump has publicly humiliated his former secretary of state, his former attorney general and his former defense secretary among others.

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Beto O'Rourke a former Texas congressman making them short on big-league seasoning. But Trump never served a day in any elected, military or appointed public office before winning the Electoral College he once called to abolish.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand hails from a family steeped in Albany Democratic machine politics. Trump was a real estate heir whose father Fred Trump gave him helpful connections to Brooklyn's Democratic machine.

Character and background always draw discussion in a presidential campaign, with an incumbent presumably judged on what is perceived to be his record and the status quo.

How voters might regard what disqualifies whom bears special attention this time out.

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