(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

A Word of Introduction

Welcome to the inaugural installment of the Post Pundit 2020 Power Ranking! The Post Opinions team is excited to introduce a new regular feature that will track — and rank — whom we see as the strongest challengers in the 2020 presidential election. We plan to be by your side all the way to the general.

In each installment (including this one, if you’ll hold your dark horses), a panel of Post Opinions writers will survey the field of 2020 potential challengers to President Trump, be they Democratic, Republican or of no party at all. Each panelist will rank their top candidates based on holistic viability to trounce Trump — however they choose to evaluate that. Then the math geniuses behind the scenes will superscore the panelists’ preferences into a cumulative ranking of the strongest 15 people who could unseat the president.

The members of your Ranking Committee, if you will, are progressive brawler Greg Sargent, voice of the millennials Christine Emba, bard of the heartland David Von Drehle, economic wunderkind Catherine Rampell, provocateur (his words) Charles Lane, data whiz David Byler, ahead-of-the-curve expat Anne Applebaum, unrepentant libertarian Megan McArdle, Republican stalwart Hugh Hewitt, ex-Republican stalwart Jennifer Rubin, new kid on the Post block Henry Olsen, block fixture Eugene Robinson, and me, Karen Tumulty (Homeric epithet pending). We’re excited to be here.

In addition to the ranking, we’ll also provide quick bites of commentary on how the race is shaping up. Click on the yellow highlighted text of the ranked list below to explore our annotations.

Finally, each go-round, a different member of the Ranking Committee will anchor the installment with a somewhat more in-depth analysis of the race alongside his or her philosophy on it. This week, the pleasure is mine. So without further ado, let’s raise the curtain.

The Commentary

I generally subscribe to the David Axelrod axiom that voters don’t look for a replica; they look for a remedy.

So forget the celebrities and billionaires with no governing experience. After four years of Donald Trump, voters will be looking for a solid record — though not necessarily one inside the Beltway — and an even temperament. Boring may be beautiful in 2020. Yes, the base is fired up. But mostly, Democrats want someone who can win.

Few of the potential contenders have been tested on the hustings or a national debate stage; nor have they shown us their organizing or fundraising chops. We have yet to see their capacities to recover from a stumble. And the accelerated campaign schedule increases the potential that a surprise breakout in Iowa could ricochet through the calendar into California. This ranking is primed to flip more than an undecided voter at an Iowa town hall, so pay attention to new faces and unfamiliar names. (Speaking of which, John Hickenlooper notes there is no nickname Trump can come up with that the former Colorado governor didn’t have to deal with in middle school.)

If former Vice President Joe Biden gets in, he immediately becomes the man to beat — a good place to start but one that requires a solid game plan to maintain. He has the luxury of waiting and seeing how the field shapes up.

I also think Senate experience can be as much an impediment as an asset. If politicians marinate there too long, they end up sounding alike. It’s no mere coincidence Barack Obama was the first person in nearly a half a century to go directly from the Senate chamber to the White House. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has had the most dazzling launch so far, though Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) announcement video this morning tugged hardest at the heartstrings. What I saw of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in Iowa suggests she has upped her game on the stump. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is a star inquisitor in Senate hearings, and that might translate well when it comes to pressing the case against Trump.

Right now, however, my pick for the most interesting candidate-to-be is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He’s seasoned, a little on the bland side for a populist, and most importantly, a Democrat who knows how to win in a swing state that became Trump Country in 2016. His “Dignity of Work” swing through Iowa is a pitch-perfect way to start. You’ll see below that not everyone agrees with me. What’s new? But stay tuned to watch them all come around… or not.

We’ll see you next time.

— Karen Tumulty

The Ranking

Ranking not showing? Click here.

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Kamala D. Harris No change [First ranking]
2. Joe Biden "
3. Elizabeth Warren "
4. Sherrod Brown "
5. Beto O’Rourke "
6. Bernie Sanders "
7. Amy Klobuchar "
8. Cory Booker "
9. Kirsten Gillibrand "
10. Michael Bloomberg "
11. Howard Schultz "
12.  John Hickenlooper "
13. Julián Castro "
14. Pete Buttigieg "
15. Oprah Winfrey "

Also receiving votes: Michael Bennet, Mitch Landrieu, Larry Hogan, John Delaney, Nikki Haley

The following week’s ranking: Round 2 | Who comes out on top in the first dirt dumps?

Don’t forget to click on the yellow highlighted text above to expand the Ranking Committee’s annotations. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, keep it boring — that just might be the ticket.

Read more on 2020:

David Byler: Want to know which Democrats can actually beat Trump? We don’t have to guess.

Jennifer Rubin: Hey, Tump’s 2020 rivals. Tell us why he’s unfit as commander in chief.

Hugh Hewitt: 2020 will be a national security election

Greg Sargent: Howard Schultz’s own advisers just unmasked his cynical game. Trump will cheer.