This week, each columnist on the Ranking Committee voted for the politicians they thought most likely to win the Democratic nomination. I tallied the votes to find the nine likeliest nominees. Then the columnists peppered the resulting list with their commentary.
Mind you, our rankers ruled not one month ago that Biden probably will run. But why should that stop a pundit from having a little fun? Read on!
Vice President Harris
The best argument for Biden to run again is that Harris will be the likely Democratic nominee if he doesn’t. Even if her lame-duck boss didn’t endorse her, the nomination would be Harris’s to lose, assuming she could lock down Black support. But Harris has shown herself more than capable of blowing it: Her 2020 bid was a debacle, she churns through staff faster and harder than anyone in politics, she speaks in word salad, and she’s failed at most of the tasks she’s been assigned as vice president. — James Hohmann
Early in the Democratic primary for 2020, I considered Harris to be Donald Trump’s toughest potential opponent. But her impressive performances in early debates and at Judiciary Committee hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominees were apparently due to effective coaching by a solid staff. Since becoming vice president, Harris’s lack of gravitas and slapdash preparation have become painfully obvious. Her current office gives her an entree into the presidential discussion, but the conversation won’t last long. — Gary Abernathy
Harris is charmless, gaffe-prone and not particularly beloved by voters, but she is the sitting vice president, and she will have to get serious consideration — particularly given the terrible optics of pushing a Black woman aside in favor of someone else. — Megan McArdle
It would be shocking if the incumbent vice president didn’t run. What may be novel for an incumbent vice president is that her run would probably entail a full-blown primary fight. This would not be a coronation, in part because many in the party doubt Harris’s electability. Moreover, one rationale for Biden not running would be that it is time to turn the page to a new generation of leaders. You can’t very well turn the page with a sitting veep. — Jennifer Rubin
The fact remains: A sitting vice president will be very hard to beat. Harris would start with a solid base among strong Biden supporters. As a woman of color, she’s well positioned to solidify and broaden that base appeal once she’s more in the spotlight. Her stature would immediately shoot up in the party once she stepped into the role of Biden’s presumed successor. And that would give her a particular boost in monopolizing a lot of fundraising money and media attention. — Greg Sargent
Nobody is smarter, nobody is better in a debate. The deficiencies that hampered Buttigieg in 2020 — he was so young, he had never run anything bigger than a small Midwestern city — are taken care of. And he is a member of a persecuted minority who can inspire the base but who also has the Obama-like ability to come across to the majority as non-angry and nonthreatening. — Eugene Robinson
The transportation secretary at times seems to be one of two members of Team Biden who can actually hit the Sunday TV show softballs thrown his way. (Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is the other.) He’s still smooth as silk on air and online, and he has a campaign in waiting. Democrats need someone who can win arguments, not sputter through cliches and talking points, all while being under 60. — Hugh Hewitt
It’s hard to imagine a former mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city becoming the Democratic standard-bearer, but the 40-year-old has a loyal following, demonstrated the ability to run a strong campaign in 2020 (he was robbed in Iowa) and offers a youthful contrast to the gerontocracy that now controls the capital. — James Hohmann
Buttigieg’s skill at defusing right-wing talking points will come in handy in a race that will be deluged with them from the start. Plus, he’s already been ahead of Biden in some key polls, and his twins would make adorable campaign surrogates. — Christine Emba
Buttigieg has been running for president since he was in the cradle. Can his boyish charm overcome his relative lack of political experience? Possibly, given a lackluster field of competitors. — Megan McArdle
Gov. Gavin Newsom (Calif.)
Given his state’s makeup, Newsom is free to sign all kinds of progressive legislation, contrasting the national party’s failures. Importantly, he’s using that to show how states can fight back against Supreme Court decisions on guns and abortion, which will appeal to Democratic voters angered and scared by the court. Newsom’s talent for trolling Republicans shows a grasp of social media that’s essential in any candidate of the future, too. Democrats, however, may find it hard to nominate another White man. — Greg Sargent
I’m a Newsom skeptic in the general election; a Democratic governor from a deep-blue state is always going to struggle. That’s particularly true of Newsom, because California’s covid policies won’t play well among a whole lot of voters. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a contender in the primary. — Megan McArdle
California is ungovernable: homelessness, a crime epidemic, a public-pension cliff. Yet somehow Newsom has turned back both a recall and responsibility for the mess. In fact, he earns praise for merely keeping the state afloat. He’s got political “curb appeal” as well, and tons of fundraising experience. Democrats desperate for a winner will look to Sacramento, not to the Californian who sits down the hall from Biden. — Hugh Hewitt
Newsom is the sitting governor of the largest state and has ties with many Democratic donors — but he shares a lot of that potential support with Harris. If many California Democrats plunk for Newsom over her, that’s a terrible sign for her chances. — Henry Olsen
Since I was slightly ahead of the curve on the Newsom boomlet, I include a link to my April 6 column here. — E.J. Dionne Jr.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.)
If Biden doesn’t run (and I really think he won’t), hypothetically, the party’s strongest candidate would be Whitmer, a female governor with a national profile from a Midwestern state. She’s media savvy and has a record to run on. Only one person pushes every button. Nearly being kidnapped by crazy extremists doesn’t hurt, either. — Matt Bai
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)
Since Biden’s election, Klobuchar has been highly visible on key issues. She seems to know that she needs to improve her standing with the party’s progressive wing, which could be the major barrier to her nomination. Midwestern is good, and she could provide the right mix of continuity and change from Biden. — E.J. Dionne Jr.
Klobuchar checks a lot of boxes. She ran and debated on the national stage in 2020. She represents the heartland, which Democrats sorely need to win presidential elections. And she is exceptionally qualified. She’s been in the thick of issues such as voting rights and antitrust and social media company regulation. — Jennifer Rubin
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.)
To dismiss the 32-year-old New York congresswoman as a leading contender for president is to discount her obvious ambition, the appeal she holds for the expanding far-left wing of her party, and the ongoing political upheaval that led to nontraditional candidates such as Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). AOC is a media darling and social media superstar with a knack for getting attention. She’s intelligent and well-spoken and a perfect fit for the selfie generation. In a culture that demonizes older leaders like never before, she’ll be just old enough, constitutionally, to be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2025. — Gary Abernathy
She’s popular, energetic and visibly fed up with the Biden administration. Most Democrats have said outright that they’ll support Biden if he runs for president. AOC has not. Does that mean she plans to run? Not necessarily, but … — Christine Emba
Why not run? There’s no obvious young progressive to displace her, and the party’s volunteer and small-dollar donor energy is found in her strongest demographics. If she fails, she’ll still be a huge Democratic power broker, having magnified the lists and contacts she already has. And if she does well but comes up short, she’d be an obvious VP for anyone except Harris. — Henry Olsen
Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (Ga.)
I know Warnock doesn’t make all the lists right now, but the party doesn’t have a better communicator or one who can speak to more of its constituencies. He’ll get a lot of buzz if he wins reelection this year, and maybe even if he doesn’t. — Matt Bai
Sen. Cory Booker* (N.J.)
*I’m cheating a bit here: My vote goes to Cory Booker … or Chris Murphy. They are allies, and I have a hunch that if one runs, the other won’t. Booker’s voice grew stronger as the 2020 nomination battle went on, and he has championed important causes, especially the child tax credit. Meanwhile, Sen. Murphy of Connecticut is a substantive media star and an important voice on many of the most important policy fights (especially gun safety), and he could pull together the party’s center and left. — E.J. Dionne Jr.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
Brown would be up for reelection in 2024, and he might decide that if he has to fight tooth and nail in red Ohio, he might as well fight tooth and nail for the whole enchilada. Plus, he knows how to frame highly progressive policies in a way that connects with both the Democratic base and “woke”-skeptical independents. — Eugene Robinson
Gov. Roy Cooper (N.C.). Cooper was elected and reelected on the same days in 2016 and 2020 that Trump carried North Carolina, and he has shown competence and deftness while dealing with a hostile GOP legislature. That experience with divided government and proven ability to win in a reddish-purple state would make him a formidable nominee. — James Hohmann
Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio). That is, if he’s Sen. Tim Ryan by then. — Jennifer Rubin
Gov. Tim Walz (Minn.). He signed criminal justice reform after George Floyd’s murder and is turning Minnesota into a sanctuary for women from neighboring states who cannot get abortions. He’d be a long shot, but the nominee could very well be someone most Democrats haven’t heard of yet. — James Hohmann
... Plus a few other names clanking around: Raimondo, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate (and state attorney general) Josh Shapiro, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.).
So that answers the second-biggest question in Washington! At least kinda!
The biggest? Who runs if Trump doesn’t, obviously. But you’ll have to wait until next week for that one. See you then!