We are a little more than a year away from the start of the 2020 presidential race.
It will also be tempting because there's no 800-pound gorilla in the field. There's no Hillary Clinton or even a Barack Obama — a high-profile rising star who seems destined for big things if he wanted to run — that we can see right now. Yes, there are front-runners, but both of them — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — would be the oldest president ever elected by more than half a decade. The Democratic Party is in a huge state of flux, and it's not clear who's leading it. It's basically Lord of the Flies.
That makes what I'm about to do both wildly speculative and lengthy. Below are what I see as the top 15 contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020, ranked in ascending order.
15. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
The Facebook founder has offered not-quite-Shermanesque denials that he'll run, but pretty much everything else he's doing suggests he will. A few things keep him at the bottom of this list: 1) We don't know if he'd run as a Democrat or an independent; 2) He's got real problems given Facebook's role in spreading fake news in 2016 and, most recently, The Washington Post's revelation that it sold ads to Russians; and 3) I just don't see it. But he does have money — lots and lots of it.
14. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Another thing I'm skeptical of is mayors becoming president. And for good reason: Only one former mayor has ever been elected president in his own right — Grover Cleveland, who was mayor of Buffalo — and he became governor before winning the presidency. Cities are messy, and they leave you with all kinds of baggage even if you're successful. Democrats like Garcetti, but Los Angeles is not a great launchpad.
13. Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.)
Kaine proved a perfectly capable running mate and served well in his role as attack dog in the vice-presidential debate. But he didn't light the world on fire, and I'm not sure I see the argument that says he's what the Democratic Party is looking for at the moment.
12. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick
Patrick is far down on this list for one main reason: People don't think he'll run. He has virtually disappeared from the public spotlight and took a job at Bain Capital — you know, Mitt Romney's Bain Capital — which would sure be a curious move if he saw a presidential campaign in his future. Most people think he doesn't. But if he did want to run, I think he's a real contender, and he'd have instant infrastructure with a lot of former Obama folks ready to jump onboard.
11. Oprah Winfrey/Mark Cuban/Howard Schultz/Bob Iger/Sheryl Sandberg
Okay, I'll admit that it's a real cop-out to put these five together. Winfrey is certainly a different kind of billionaire than Cuban, former Starbucks CEO Schultz, Disney CEO Iger and Facebook COO Sandberg. Schultz and Iger seem perhaps the most likely to run, but Winfrey would be instantly formidable if she did. And if Democrats decide to fight a billionaire president with a billionaire Democrat, any of these four make more sense to me than Zuckerberg. If I had to pick one right now, it would be Schultz.
10. Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
If Democrats want to go populist and progressive, Brown fits the bill. If they're worried about losing the Rust Belt and the white working class again, he also fits the bill, and does so better than any name on this list. And he seems to have a newfound appetite for national politics, even musing to The Post's Ben Terris about whether he would have helped Hillary Clinton win as her VP pick in 2016. Call this your first real sleeper pick. First, though, he'll need to get past his 2018 reelection bid in a swing state.
9. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
Cuomo is very likely to win a third term as governor next year. From there, what else does he have to do but run for president? He'll have to get past some issues with the Democratic base (see: Zephyr Teachout's surprisingly strong 2014 primary challenge against him), but Cuomo could be a real pragmatic pick.
8. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)
Booker's presidential campaign has often seemed to be a matter of when, not if. He's certainly among the biggest political talents on this list and would quickly garner attention. He's also got the mayor thing, though, having run Newark, and having the scars to prove it.
7. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.)
Speaking of candidates with lots of buzz: Harris entered the Senate with huge expectations earlier this year. It would be a quick jump to running for president, though, and as with Cuomo, there are some lingering tensions between her and progressives that she might want to spend some more time putting behind her. She seemed to set about that last week by coming out in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders's single-payer health care bill.
6. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)
Gillibrand said pretty definitively back in May that she won't run. “I’m focused entirely on running for Senate, so yes, I’m ruling it out,” she said. But nobody really believes her. And it's not like she's going to lose her 2018 reelection bid. She also seems to have made all the right moves so far. “She positioned herself way early in Senate in terms of her votes; she moved to the left really quickly,” said one influential Democratic strategist I spoke with. The strategist added: “Everything from what I hear is she is pretty ramped up.”
5. California Gov. Jerry Brown
Brown will be 82 years old on Election Day 2020. He first ran for president in 1976 — which is half a lifetime ago, even for him. And yet, when I spoke with knowledgeable Democrats, his name came up as much as just about anyone else's. They see him as uniquely able to take the fight to Trump. Something to keep an eye on: California is looking to move its primary right behind Iowa and New Hampshire. If it succeeds, Brown's stock shoots up and maybe the race gets more tempting.
4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
I don't think she will run — especially if Sanders tries again, as it seems he probably will. But if she did, Warren would instantly have a strong base of support. Democrats talked her into running for Senate. Could they talk her into running for president?
3. Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.)
Murphy has impressed plenty of folks since entering the Senate in 2013, particularly with his messaging. He's also got clear progressive bona fides — on gun control and fighting Trump — without seeming like too much of a Northeastern liberal. He says he's not interested in running, but nearly everyone thinks he'd be an instant contender. He may be the one guy on this list that not enough people are talking about.
2. Former vice president Joe Biden
Biden seems to have nothing but regret about not running in 2016. He said he thought he could have won and that he was the best-qualified candidate. Like Sherrod Brown, he seems like an obvious fit for a party that wants to win back the white working class and the Rust Belt. But he'll be 77 years old in 2020, and his previous presidential campaigns have gone basically nowhere. Being a well-liked vice president isn't the same as doing the hard work of running and winning by yourself. But Biden's time — if it ever comes — may be arriving.
1. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
In contrast to all the other names on this list downplaying their odds of running, Sanders seems to be gearing up for another go — and admitting it. Those around him seem to think it'll happen. He's a year older than Biden, but it's difficult to see why Democrats wouldn't believe he deserved a chance at being the nominee after what happened in 2016. And he remains pretty broadly popular with the American people. The big X-Factor here is the federal investigation into a land deal pursued by his wife, which appears to be no small nuisance.