It’s just February 2019 and we already have 10 declared well-known 2020 Democratic candidates for president. The 2016 runner-up for the nomination just got in. Others are set to decide within days or weeks. The debates start in three months. And we’re already comparing fundraising hauls.
In other words, it’s a good time to start tuning in, and a good time to update our quarterly rankings of the top 15 potential 2020 Democratic nominees.
As always, these are listed in order of the most likely to win the nomination, which includes how strong they are and how likely they are to run (if they aren’t already).
Also in the mix: Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former congressman John Delaney (Md.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio).
15. Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr.: The nation’s first black attorney general has honed a message focused on voting rights and redistricting, but he gave a speech in Iowa this month that was much broader than that. In fact, it looked a lot like an announcement speech. His decision is due next month.
14. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe: McAuliffe said last weekend that he was “close” to making a decision and that he “wants to see where the field is.” He has expressed reservations about his party’s shift to the left and suggested that he would run as someone who would be a steady and disciplined steward of the economy. Recently, he was among the first to call for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) to resign.
13. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: If you’re looking for a dark horse, you could do worse than Inslee, a former congressman and popular two-term governor with real credibility on liberal issues. He says he’ll run on climate change, first and foremost. But there seem to be hard feelings in at least one early state, New Hampshire, where the state party chairman recently accused the Democratic Governors Association chairman of “abandoning” the state’s 2018 governor’s race.
12. Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro: Castro got plenty of buzz as a potential vice-presidential pick for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he’ll need to deal with the perception that that’s what he’s really campaigning for this time. In his first trip to Iowa as a candidate this week, he pitched himself as the “antithesis to Donald Trump.”
11. Hillary Clinton: I’d be very surprised if she ran, yes, but Clintonworld hasn’t slammed the door shut. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported last month that Clinton was telling people she was keeping that door slightly ajar, which drew a response from John Podesta. Except he used the old present-tense trick. “She’s not running for president,” he said. “She said she’s not running,” he added. And: “She says she’s not running for president, and I think this is media catnip.” Okay, we know she isn’t running right now. How about whether she might in the future? I know this seems pedantic, but people like Podesta know the difference.
10. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg: As Politico’s Marc Caputo writes, an old, white, male billionaire who used to be both a Republican and an independent isn’t exactly the demographic the Democratic Party seems to be craving. But Bloomberg put his money where his mouth is on gun control and climate change. That could go a long way, as could his hundreds of millions of dollars.
9. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.): Gillibrand launched her campaign last month despite having said just three months before that she would serve out her entire Senate term if she won reelection. “Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand flat-out lied,” declared the Buffalo News’s editorial board. The Syracuse Post-Standard agreed. Look, politicians change their mind about running all the time, and some have definitely lied about their intentions. But it was one of the worst-kept secrets in politics that Gillibrand was ramping up for a presidential campaign when she said she would serve out her term.
8. Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio): If you’re looking for someone who might benefit from the leftward lurch of this primary field — but also brings populist bona fides to it — Brown might be your guy. As the other candidates stretch the Overton window, Brown has charted what Politico calls a more “nuanced” relationship with corporations and banks. He also seems prepared, if and when he gets in, to focus on an electability argument, as a guy who won reelection in an important Midwestern state that President Trump easily carried.
7. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.): Every couple days or so, Klobuchar gets hit with another story about just what a dreadful boss many staffers say she is. The latest is courtesy of the New York Times. Klobuchar has tried to spin that as her being someone with high expectations, and her defenders suggest that the attack is gendered — the kind of thing we’d never talk about if she were a man. But there’s a difference between being demanding and reportedly throwing binders that hit people. If she can shake this, though, she may have the best claim to the moderate/pragmatic mantle in this race — a lane that could be pretty wide.
6. Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.): O’Rourke’s decision on whether to run is due in the coming days, and it looks as though he’s in. But what exactly will he run on? We tend to judge candidates like O’Rourke relative to whom they’re running against — in O’Rourke’s case in 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). But is he really the liberal hero Democrats are looking for, or just the guy they really wanted to unseat Cruz? O’Rourke didn’t exactly run on a hugely liberal platform, and there will be pressure to define himself almost immediately if he gets in. There is lots of upside here, though. Lots.
5. Former vice president Joe Biden: Biden is the highest-ranking pol on this list who isn’t yet a candidate. And he seems to be genuinely hesitant about whether to give it one last go, even as the conventional wisdom is he probably runs. As for if and when he does? Remember that his two previous campaigns didn’t go well at all. He left as a popular vice president, but it’s easier to be popular when you aren’t constantly front and center, facing scrutiny. Many people seem to think he would be Democrats’ best hope in the general election, but getting to the general election is a big, big if.
4. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.): Booker scored a signature legislative win just before launching his presidential campaign, after Trump endorsed his First Step criminal reform legislation and it passed through both chambers. The big potential liability, at least at this point, are his ties to Wall Street and corporate interests. He has said he won’t take corporate PAC money.
3. Sen Elizabeth Warren (Mass.): Her supporters would like to believe the Native American stuff doesn’t matter, but that doesn’t explain why Warren feels the need to keep addressing it. And her inability to put this issue behind her after trying to preemptively take it off the table is perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this, practically speaking. That said, her credibility on liberal issues is matched by basically only one other person on this list, (see No. 2 below), which keeps her near the top.
2. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): The 2016 Democratic runner-up is the latest big entrant in this race (not that there was much question he’d run). And he started off with a bang, raising nearly $6 million in about 24 hours — about four times his nearest competitor. That’s coming from the base he already built, yes, but that’s also kind of the point: 225,000 people gave to his campaign almost immediately, signifying a sizable reassembled base with which to start in a crowded field where assembling such a base won’t be easy.
1. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.): Nobody’s launch has been as impressive as Harris’s, save for Sanders’s fundraising haul. The California senator seems comfortable in her own skin, on-message and sharp, and it has made her a somewhat surprising early favorite in betting markets. The big early question for her, though, is whether her past “tough on crime” stance toward criminal justice fits with today’s Democratic Party.