(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Karen Tumulty, and this is Round 13. I’m not particularly superstitious, but I’d still advise Beto to keep standing on top of tables rather than under ladders.

The Commentary

With former vice president Joe Biden finally in the race and taking the pole position as the early front-runner, an enormous field of 20 candidates has taken shape. Pundits and political journalists are dusting off the old trope that each challenger is trying to find a “lane.”

You know what I’m talking about — cable television is full of chatter about the establishment lane, the insurgent one, the populist pick, the candidate of a particular gender or ethnicity.

Except that this is rarely, if ever, how it works. Voters — not even the stalwarts who come out during party primaries — do not tend to pick categories. They pick candidates. Over the next year, some of these contenders will shine; others will stumble; still more will simply disappear. I expect that by the fall, a half-dozen or more will drop out, either because they aren’t raising any money or because they remain asterisks in the polls.

In 2016, Donald Trump did not wipe out a field of 16 other Republicans by picking a lane. He did it by bulldozing an entire new highway for himself, using as his steamroller the grievances of voters who believed they had been ignored or looked down on for too long.

Eight years before, Barack Obama knocked off the redoubtable Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries not by tactical positioning but by winning in homogeneously white Iowa. That surprising victory made his party believe that perhaps the moment — and the candidate — had arrived to show that America was ready to elect its first black president.

It is far from clear which candidate best suits the juncture at which the party now finds itself. One thing the polls tell us is that rank-and-file Democrats are more concerned about finding a winner against Trump than they are about specific positions on the issues, ideology or diversity.

As much as Biden is being touted as the figure who has the best shot of winning back non-college-educated white voters in the Upper Midwest, I think his most powerful message may be the one he emphasized in his announcement video: Trump’s moral failings. That’s not a lane; it’s an imperative for whoever wins the nomination.

— Karen Tumulty

The Ranking

Ranking not showing? Click here.

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Joe Biden UP 2
2. Bernie Sanders DOWN 1
3. Kamala D. Harris DOWN 1
4. Pete Buttigieg
5. Elizabeth Warren UP 1
6. (TIE) Cory Booker UP 2
6. (TIE) Amy Klobuchar UP 1
8. Beto O’Rourke DOWN 3
9. John Hickenlooper
10. Julián Castro UP 1
11. Stacey Abrams UP 2
12. (TIE) Kirsten Gillibrand DOWN 2
12. (TIE) Michael Bennet DOWN 1
14. Seth Moulton UP 1

Falls off ranking: Jay Inslee

Also receiving votes: John Delaney, Andrew Yang, Larry Hogan, Inslee


Last week’s ranking: Round 12 | Bernie walked into the lion’s den and came out a winner

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, stake your place all over the road. But keep an eye out for inevitable collisions.

Read more on 2020:

Catherine Rampell: Warren’s free-college-and-debt-forgiveness plan may be liberal, but it isn’t progressive

Henry Olsen: Trump’s greatest threat has arrived

Karen Tumulty: Joe Biden could be the best bet to beat Trump. But he might not get that far.

David Byler: Is the new Democratic Party too woke to nominate Joe Biden?

Eugene Robinson: Biden may or may not win the nomination. But he knows the stakes.