Two weeks ago saw the announcement of the first substantial Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination in 2020. Senator Elizabeth Warren threw her hat into the ring and rumblings from a number of other potential candidates followed.
Since then, Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard have announced their candidacies for 2020 and Kamala Harris and Joe Biden among others, appear to be nearing their announcements of their intentions. Tom Steyer, the billionaire behind the Need To Impeach campaign, previously thought to be preparing for a run in 2020, has announced that he won’t run.
It’s expected that we will likely see the largest and most diverse field of candidates running for the nomination that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. The combination of there not being a definitive front runner and having the toxic Trump to run against, has inspired so many Democrats to consider the possibilities.
Early polls are as valuable as a Trump promise so they should generally be regarded as just fun political candy. They only really reflect name recognition and often the candidates who will be the front runners in the primary are not those with the most name recognition before the primaries begin.
For example, in early 2015, at this same point in the process, guess who the top two favorites were in the GOP primary. If you guessed Jeb Bush and Scott Walker (the first candidate to drop out), you’d be right (Trump wasn’t even on the polling radar at that time). In 2011 at this point in the process, Hillary Clinton was 20 points ahead of that young upstart, Barack Obama (whatever happened with him?).
A variety of polls have come out already and most have shown Joe Biden at or near the top. A recent Daily Kos poll had Elizabeth Warren at the top (it is a Progressively minded site) which is a little surprising and maybe a bit informative when considering Bernie Sander’s status with Progressives in 2016. Another interesting thing about polling at this point is who has higher name recognition despite their lesser experience and years in the spotlight. Beto O’Rourke has been among the top names in most of these polls which may also be a bit informative about how strongly the race would begin for him.
When assessing the field or even settling in behind one or more candidates with support, it would seem a good idea not to denigrate other candidates. Being pro-your-candidate(s) instead of anti-the-other-candidates. The 2020 election will hold our democracy in the balance and a division between Dems, based on resentment of how other Dems treated them and their candidate in the primaries, is one “luxury” we really can’t afford. Dems will need to come together behind the eventual candidate to confidently beat Trump and protect this country from the threat he is.
None of the candidates below are “bad” people, it’s safe to assume that all of them would try to do what’s best for the country and seek to repair the damage Trump has done, albeit in different ways.
That said, it’s fun to predict and based on absolutely no polling, debates or 2020 campaign performances, a breakdown of who might be more or less likely to win follows below. Some of this is based on the current environment, which could change, arguable logic and the candidates’ favorite Broadway songs (it’s really telling, honest!).
So if you lose money betting on the favorites listed here, you may contact our lawyer with a harshly worded, spellchecked email and threats to never again gamble on the sensibilities of American voters (not a good idea after witnessing what happened in 2016 anyway).
CANDIDATES FOR THE 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
- Michael Bloomberg
- Tulsi Gabbard
Michael Bloomberg has invested a lot of time, energy and money as a gun control advocate and a supporter of like minded candidates. However, the “thrill” of electing a billionaire outsider from New York is so 2016. Bloomberg has positioned himself as an outsider, a moderate conservative and an independent which really isn’t what Dems were looking for in the 2018 election nor seem to be in 2020. They appear to want a “real” Democrat that inspires them and will be the antidote to Trump, they don’t appear to be looking for a Dem version of “Trump”. A very wealthy media mogul, Wall Streeter with changing affiliations (he was a Republican and just recently changed to being a Democrat) doesn’t fit that bill. Progressives are unlikely to be attracted to him or his socially centrist/economically conservative candidacy and those seeking a centrist have more dependably Democratic choices than Bloomberg.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a very conflicted politician. She was a visible supporter of Bernie Sanders in 2016 and earned cred among Progressives for that and standing up against the DNC’s treatment of Sanders…yet is supportive of Syria’s Assad, has been openly anti-gay rights, rushed to meet with Trump when he was elected and counts right wing Republicans as fans. She has started her 2020 campaign by apologizing for her anti-LGBTQ comments which, while smart politically, has called attention to these prior views. Already, some Progressives have come out since Gabbard’s campaign announcement in order to aggressively express their opposition. She has potent baggage, some of the most damaging of any Dem who’s running, which should give her a very difficult path as a candidate.
THE LESS LIKELY:
- Eric Swalwell
- Eric Holder
- Julian Castro
- Terry McCauliffe
- Cory Booker
- Kirsten Gillibrand
- Bernie Sanders
Rep. Eric Swalwell has risen in the Dem ranks especially in the past two years, as a tireless fighter for Dem values and against Trump. He seems genuinely committed to Dem issues and principles. He has a “guy next door” demeanor which is a plus in the era of Trump but there are other candidates in his way that may be seen as more charismatic and already have established national support. Swalwell checks all the right boxes for core Dems, both centrists and Progressives, and deserves the support he will get but it may be difficult for him to compete in the top tier (at least in 2020) though it’s not impossible.
Attorney General Eric Holder is well known nationally and a member of the very-popular-with-Dems Obama Administration. He currently works with President Obama on fighting gerrymandering across the country and was well known as a fighter for voting rights while Attorney General. He has never run for office before which, to begin, is a real issue with such a large field of other candidates who have run before. Holder does carry baggage too that is made worse by having Trump in office. Holder oversaw the deportation of a huge number of undocumented immigrants and the detaining of many immigrants at the border. This is possibly the worst issue to be on the wrong side of in 2020. One could imagine Trump cynically complimenting him on how aggressive he was against undocumented immigrants, taking one of the most powerful campaign issues away from Dems. Holder has mixed support among Dems for this and other less-than-Progressive actions as AG which makes building sufficient support as a presidential candidate within the core Dem voters more elusive.
Julian Castro comes across as a sharp professional, a Progressive who served in the Obama Admin as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. However, he’s never run for a statewide or national office. He did serve as Mayor of San Antonio and he and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, received a lot of attention during the Obama years as up and comers to watch. That “heat” has dissipated though so while he does have some name recognition, it’s a difficult climb over stronger positioned candidates and those more charismatic. He does uniquely represent Latinos among the otherwise non-Latino field which could open up possibilities but his reserved manner of speech doesn’t seem as inspiring as others and could be a liability when one imagines him sparring with a loud and hostile Trump.
Terry McCauliffe is one of several centrist Democrats expected to run in the primary, the most prominent being ex-VP Joe Biden. It’s hard to see what McCauliffe can do to re-direct those voters away from Biden and to him instead. Biden has the valuable Obama connection, McCauliffe, a very Dem Establishment type who was Chairman of the DNC and previously Governor of Virginia, comes from the corporate/centrist Clinton camp. After Hillary’s (debateable) loss in 2016, it seems less likely that having a slick, establishment candidate that Trump could more easily demonize as “the swamp” and use to renew his demonizing against Hillary is what Dems would want to see. Also, McCauliffe’s very corporate/centrist/establishment views seem off the path that core Dems are marching down. He also has no national voter base to start with while Biden does.
Senator Corey Booker starts off with good name recognition, charisma and smarts. He is a moderate Dem who has fought for issues Progressives believe in too and was even so bold as to testify against fellow Senator Jeff Sessions during his hearings to become Attorney General. But being a corporate-friendly moderate has loaded Booker up with baggage he may find hard to get out from under. When Mitt Romney ran for President and Bain Capital was criticized, Booker came out to defend the character of Bain Capital, calling it “nauseating” for anyone to attack private capital. He voted against allowing Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada while taking a quarter of a million from pharmaceutical companies and is a big charter school proponent. He’s supported many worthy Dem issues including The Respect For Marriage Act but it seems barely likely that core Dems would want a Wall Street/corporate-friendly candidate as their answer to Trump.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has stood up for many strong Dem positions, issues and principles, especially women’s rights (such as the military’s and Congress’ sexist systems for women standing up as victims of sexual harassment). She doesn’t have the same degree of charisma and national following that her fellow Senator Warren has so that would be a hurdle for her to get past and there is an internal Dem issue she’s burdened with. In being at the forefront of calls for Senator Al Franken to immediately resign due to allegations of improper behavior towards women, some Franken-supporting Dems bear negative feelings towards her for what they saw as a rush to judgement, some of them accusing her of doing it to give herself a boost for her run in 2020. Other Dems see her as staunchly standing up for women and the #MeToo movement even when it hurts her party and feel very positively towards her. But starting off with a segment of Dems disposed against her makes competing in the top tier of candidates much tougher.
Senator Bernie Sanders rocketed from virtual obscurity to fame and political reverence when he ran as the only serious alternative and underdog to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Seen as a true Progressive, Sanders inspired a very faithful base of Dem supporters to rally around him then and now. However, it was and is that 2016 primary that gives Sanders substantial baggage heading into 2020. The primary opposition in the Dem Party is visible daily on Twitter and Facebook, some Hillary supporters in particular have a variety of issues with Sanders stemming from the 2016 primary and are very vocally opposed to Sanders and even his supporters (there are Sanders supporters who are just as negative towards Hillary and her supporters). It is very hard to see how Sanders could bring the party together due to this. There is also the sensibility of Dem voters wanting someone new and exciting (as shallow as that sounds, it is a factor). Sanders hasn’t improved on the low amount of support he received in 2016 from the black community and Sanders seriously wounded himself with women voters, still trying to apologize for why he did and said nothing while women were being sexually harassed by his campaign staff in 2016. Again, since he and Warren pretty much occupy the same Progressive lane, it’s hard to see how, with a segment of Dems opposed to him, Sanders would surpass Warren or be seen as the unifying candidate that Dems want and need for their party. At the same time, in a big field with voters split in many directions, the loyalty of his supporters could keep him in the top tier of competitive candidates and keep his pursuit of the nomination alive.
THE MORE LIKELY:
- Kamala Harris
- Amy Klobuchar
- Sherrod Brown
- Elizabeth Warren
- Joe Biden
- Beto O’Rourke
Senator Kamala Harris‘ sharp questioning of Brett Kavanaugh, in light of other stand out work in previous hearings has vaulted Harris into the position of being a well known and serious contender for the Dem nomination. She is a brilliant advocate for Dem issues and has a long list of accomplishments from her time as Attorney General in California. She is a essentially a centrist and has been pursuing big money contributors from the Clinton camp. Decisions she made as AG (including refusing to prosecute Steven Mnuchin’s blatantly criminal bank during the financial crisis but instead taking campaign contributions from him) and her solidarity then with police (sometimes over the rights of citizens and/or police accountability) has led to a segment of Progressives in CA and nationally to be uncomfortable with Harris, seeing her as maybe more conservative and less reliably Progressive than she represents herself. Even so, she would start off with solid national awareness, possibly some big financial backing from Clintonworld and the undeniable talent to excel in debates and be able to compete in the top tier.
Senator Amy Klobuchar is a more Centrist Democrat but well liked across the board by Progressives and moderate Dems though name recognition may not be as high as she might hope. She has stood up and spoken up for many Dem issues and hasn’t been shy about taking on Trump. While supporting most Progressive issues, her strong opposition to Medicare For All and universal healthcare (she avidly supports continuing the ACA indefinitely as the national medical program and wants to fix what’s not working) would seem to be a pinhole that could let some air out of her balloon for some Progressives. Klobuchar is very smart and has a strong while compassionate demeanor which could help her overcome that and move her into being a top competitor.
Senator Sherrod Brown has many pluses to begin a campaign. He is from the swing state of Ohio and just won re-election there handily. The prospect of having a candidate that could have a better chance to move Ohio and Rust Belt states back to the Democratic column is big. He is well liked across the Dem party and there is no apparent segment of the Dem Party that stands opposed to him. He is outspoken, a fighter, has little baggage and is a self-proclaimed Progressive yet has an independent feel to him. What he may not have at the start is a lot of national name recognition which among a big field, is very helpful in starting strong. However, what works for him as a strength may be an issue. His down-to-Earth demeanor, his unpolished, rumpled appearance and gravelly voice may make him seem “less presidential”, less of the remarkable figure that Dems may want to be their standard bearer. Dems’ heads usually nod with what Brown says but they do want a candidate they feel inspired by. Brown has the potential to be that person.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was Bernie before Bernie was Bernie. She inspired many in the Progressive wing of the party with her fearless speeches and observations about corporate wealth and power oppressing regular Americans and democracy. She is seen as a genuine ally of working and struggling Americans. As a seemingly unafraid Progressive fighter and proving in 2016, as an ally of Hillary’s, that she’s ready, willing and able to aggressively take on Trump, she has many attributes that the Dem base looked for in 2018 and are likely looking for in the 2020 nominee. The only baggage related to her are the dust-ups over her racial identity, her decision to release a DNA test proving she does have a small fraction of Native American heritage backfired completely. While that may have been a story that Trump and the media ran with that cast a negative light on her, it hardly seems like an issue that has the legs to continue causing her trouble in a long primary campaign. A recently released Daily Kos poll showing her at the top of 2020 prospects shouldn’t be seen as highly predictive but it does seem to reflect that among Progressives and many Dems, the DNA/Native American matter is a non-issue. She has already been hit with attacks, trying to describe her in the same sexist terms used to undercut Hillary, “unlikeable” and “Is she too old?” (while men seem never tagged for their advanced age…Biden will be 78 in 2020 and yet Warren will only be 71 then) but all women candidates running for the nom should be prepared for blatant or latent misogyny aimed at them. Warren has many of the important assets for Dems and could go all the way.
Vice President Joe Biden has so many positives going for him. He was of course President Obama’s partner in office. He spoke out boldly for gay marriage and gay rights when many top Dems were afraid to do so. He has a genuine, regular guy persona and can be a highly effective and inspiring speaker. He is a fighter, no question he could go toe-to-toe with Trump. Biden has been more of a centrist but supports many Progressive positions on issues. He can appeal to the swing state voters who flipped from Obama to Trump as well as independent and moderate Dems. He has the political experience to give Dems confidence that he could fix much of the Trump destruction of government quicker than someone less experienced. Biden would likely be the strongest candidate in the establishment/centrist lane and could block others from being highly competitive. Biden does carry baggage with him from his long pre-Obama past, part of the problem of being older and having a long political career. Biden conducted the Anita Hill testimony against Clarence Thomas which became a horribly misogynist exercise in attacking the victim. He also sponsored the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarcerations, especially of African Americans. He supported the Iraq War, the bankruptcy bill that crushed consumers to benefit banks (he is from Delaware where a number of banks are based) and the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA (which may explain his aggressiveness as VP in supporting gay marriage to undo that). Add to this, the claims of Biden being too “handsy” at times with women and his penchant for gaffes and there will be fodder for Dem candidates to go after him on and if he won the nom, Trump and Repubs (and Russians) to go after him on. As an older, establishment/centrist candidate, Biden could be framed by the Republicans as the Dem’s 2020 version of Hillary Clinton, to discourage voters. Biden is a package deal, he has many of the traits the Dem base wants to see but also some critical negatives that won’t be overlooked.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke has built a national image for himself while running against Ted Cruz for Cruz’s Texas Senate seat. He comes across to many Dems as genuine, compassionate and principled. His remarkable fundraising from small donors and refusal to take corporate and PAC money (as some other candidates have also pledged) reflects the kind of star appeal he has and the amazing fundraising capability he has to finance a primary and general campaign. President Obama has praised him and even mentioned that he sees a little of himself in Beto. So there are many feel-good reasons for Dems to support Beto. A fresh face (someone who can be seen as not corrupted by many years in politics), someone who can be exciting and inspiring, someone who can say the right things that represent Democratic and Progressive principles and someone with the hook of youth and enthusiasm. The Dem base likes to fall in love with their presidential candidates and as with President Obama, that could work to the O’Rourke’s advantage. As noted with other candidates, strengths can also represent weaknesses. His younger age and lesser time in politics could be used to characterize him as too green and as was said about Obama, “He should just wait 8 years.” Also, being a representative in Texas, he has sided with the oil industry on issues at least in some cases. He also is a strong Israel supporter and stood against unions in health benefits negotiations. Some high profile Bernie Sanders supporters have already been aggressive in attacking O’Rourke as a centrist (even conservative) in Progressive clothing. Since many Progressives already supported his Senate run, it’s hard to see this as reflective of a substantial number of Progressives. The primary race will provide time for Dem voters to investigate the Progressiveness of O’Rourke’s views. He did lose the Senate race to Cruz which could also be used against him (“Why should he run against Trump as the Dem nominee when he lost his last race? We have to win this one!”) but coming as close as he did in such a red state can’t be ignored either. O’Rourke is a candidate that checks many boxes for the Dem base. Questions remain since he is somewhat new to the political scene but he would seem to be as strong a competitor as any of those in this category.
Again, all of the above is just spitballing. Some of the potential candidates listed above may not even run. And others may perform very differently than is assessed here. Some could have a gaffe or a secret uncovered that tanks their candidacy or have a great debate performance that changes everything.
So whoever you may support, whatever category they appear in above, these are only guesses and your favorite may win in the end
The cliche has little power left but just as 2018 was the most important election in our lifetimes up until then, 2020 will become the most important election we’ve ever voted in.
Knowing that Republicans and some of their supporting groups have become intertwined with Russia which seeks to disintegrate and divide the U.S., the onus will be on the American people to eschew the destructive and absolutist behavior they are hoping to provoke.
We need to show the world that the majority of Americans choose to step back from the binary thinking of loving our candidate and hating their opponents (except in Trump’s case since he is de facto an adversary of American values…though we don’t have to hate him…how about “despise”?), especially in a Dem primary where at the end, we need to have solidarity and all get behind the nominee to defeat the greatest evil.
Whoever it is, whether one of the above or someone who isn’t even on the radar yet, we should look forward to and expect debates that are about the issues and take pride in having a field of candidates that are all superior to who we have soiling our White House right now.
So here’s to an exciting and successful primary and cheers to all the candidates who have the courage to put themselves out there and dare to think that they could become The President of the United States and use their power to help their fellow citizens to live happier and better lives.