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Just tuning in now? Here’s what to know about the 2020 Democratic race.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont on his second bid, on April 8 ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, clearing the way for former vice president Joe Biden to be the party’s nominee.

Biden held a delegate lead over Sanders as the novel coronavirus outbreak delayed a number of primaries.

While Biden didn’t fare well in the first few states, he made a statement in South Carolina, winning every county and strong support among African American voters. That strength carried over into the next states, and all major opponents other than Sanders have dropped out, many of them endorsing the former vice president.

Dropped out: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.); former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; billionaire investor Tom Steyer; former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick; Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; former Maryland congressman John Delaney; Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.); author Marianne Williamson; former San Antonio mayor and housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro; Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.); Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak; former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke; Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio); Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.); New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.); former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.).

Democratic candidates and voters are embracing more liberal positions than in past presidential campaigns, favoring plans to combat climate change, increase the number of Americans who are covered by government-sponsored health care and lessen penalties on those who enter the United States illegally. But some Democrats are concerned that those leftward moves threaten the party in the general election, leading to a fierce debate over how far Democrats should go. Should criminal penalties be repealed for those apprehended while crossing the border? Should the country embrace single-payer health coverage, in which all Americans are automatically enrolled in Medicare or a similar plan, or simply offer an increasing number of Americans the option to enroll in it?

Much of the Democratic race pivots around the key question for voters: Who can beat Trump? What combination of voters — liberal, moderate, white working-class, African American, Latino, college-educated or not — in which key states can each candidate put together to defeat the president in the electoral college as well as the popular vote?

How we got here


Delaney became the first candidate in the race, in July 2017. Yang entered the race in November.

Dec. 31, 2018

The candidate of radical structural change

Warren is pitching herself as a candidate with many, many plans. A lot of them, she says, will be funded with a wealth tax that has her crowds cheering “2 cents,” after the cut her plan would take of every dollar of wealth over $50 million. Several months before her entrance, she stumbled over a DNA test that she said helped prove her past claims of Native American heritage but that was criticized as insensitive to members of Native American tribes. But she bounced back in voters’ estimation as she campaigned in early states, promising, “I’ve got a plan for that.” Her rise stalled, and her poll numbers fell from October to November.

Jan. 1 to Feb. 9, 2019

Gabbard, Harris, Buttigieg and Booker entered the race.

Feb. 10

A Midwesterner who wants to talk about getting things done

It was February, in Minnesota, outdoors. And it was snowing, relentlessly. Klobuchar announced a campaign based on Midwestern hardiness, pragmatism and the ability to get bipartisan support for infrastructure and other matters. She’s working to win over voters in the neighboring state of Iowa.

Feb. 19

Sanders entered the race, holding rallies in New York and Chicago in his first weekend of campaigning,

April 25

A former VP who promises to restore norms

Biden started his third presidential run by confronting Trump over divisiveness and promising a return to pre-Trump civility. He predicts that under a Biden administration, Republicans will come to their senses and want to work with Democrats — an idea many of his primary opponents greet with skepticism. He has sought to benefit from the party’s continued high esteem for former president Barack Obama, and his campaign has been strengthened by persistent support among African American voters.


Bennet and Bullock, two moderate candidates, entered the race.

June 27

Harris confronts Biden on busing

Harris delivered the biggest moment in any debate so far, with a direct, personal rebuke of Biden over his opposition to federally mandated busing during the 1970s. Harris, whose parents are Jamaican and Indian, recalled her experience being bused to school as a child under a voluntary program. After the debate, the former prosecutor’s poll numbers rose, although the boost proved to be temporary. She would drop out in December, citing financial struggles.

Aug. 28

Gillibrand became the fourth candidate in two weeks to drop out, joining Inslee, Hickenlooper and Moulton. Gillibrand had branded herself “the best candidate for women.” Inslee was running a campaign focused on climate change. Hickenlooper announced later that he would run for Senate in Colorado, and Moulton is seeking to return to Congress. None could break through in the crowded race.

Sept. 12

An outsider with an intriguing idea

Yang, who has had the least speaking time of all the candidates in the debates so far, wanted to create a moment at the third debate. He told reporters to watch for news, then promised $1,000 a month to someone who signs up on his website. Yang’s campaign is based on the idea that the government should provide a $1,000-a-month subsidy to every adult American, to help those whose jobs are affected by automation and give others a firmer financial floor.

Oct. 1

A comeback, with signs of strength and humor

After falling ill at a campaign event, Sanders is hospitalized; a few days later, his campaign confirmed the 78-year-old senator had suffered a heart attack. The illness came at a difficult time for Sanders. While he had been campaigning on many of the same ideas that won him votes and delegates in the 2016 primary, his support had lagged below his earlier levels, when he faced only one competitor. But a few weeks after his heart attack, Sanders won three high-profile votes of confidence with the endorsements of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), three of the four members of the liberal “Squad” of freshman Democratic lawmakers. Since returning to the campaign trail, Sanders has been more relaxed and more willing to joke and share personal stories.

Oct. 15

A young candidate works to distinguish himself

In the fourth debate, Buttigieg went after Warren, trying to paint her as dishonest about the costs of her proposals by attacking her lack of a plan for funding Medicare-for-all, a Sanders proposal she has endorsed. (She has since outlined a plan.) Early in his campaign, the mayor said he was in favor of Medicare-for-all, but he now embraces what he calls “Medicare for all who want it,” which lets anyone buy into the program.

Oct. 19

A Gabbard-Clinton fight

After 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said on a podcast that Russians had a favorite candidate among the 2020 Democratic field and clearly referred to Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman shot back, calling her “the queen of warmongers.” Gabbard, a veteran, has campaigned on ending “regime-change wars” and also talked about the spirit of “aloha.” Her fan base tends to be suspicious of mainstream media, and some of her support is from more conservative voters and Republicans. She has repeatedly dismissed the idea of running a third-party campaign.

Nov. 1

O’Rourke, the former congressman who fell short of beating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and whose candidacy focused on climate change, immigration and gun control, drops out. He was heralded as a potential top-tier candidate when he entered the race in March but was unable to replicate either the fundraising prowess or campaign enthusiasm that marked his statewide race. That same day, Buttigieg filled the role of bright young Democratic face by making a splash at a high-profile Democratic event in Iowa.

Nov. 14

Patrick joins the race.

Nov. 24

Bloomberg joins the race.

Dec. 1-3

Sestak, Bullock and then Harris drop out of the race. Harris entered with one of the biggest rallies in the primary campaign and left with low polling numbers and internal campaign turmoil.

Jan. 2-13, 2020

The field shrinks, with three major candidates dropping out: first Castro, then Williamson and then Booker.

Jan. 31

Delaney drops out just a few days before the Iowa caucuses.

Feb. 3

Iowa holds its caucuses, which were marred by technical and logistical problems. There’s still no clear winner, with both Buttigieg and Sanders claiming victory. They do appear knotted at the top in both measures of state delegate equivalents and popular vote.

Feb. 11

New Hampshire holds its primary, and Sanders comes in first, with Buttigieg and Klobuchar in second and third.

Feb. 22

Nevada holds its caucuses, for the first time with early voting. Sanders wins decisively, with a clear lead even as the last votes were slow to be counted.

Feb. 29

South Carolina holds its primary, and African American voters help power Biden to a blowout victory. Tom Steyer drops out of the race.

March 1

Buttigieg ends his presidential bid.

March 2

Klobuchar ends her presidential bid.

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