Having written plenty about people’s decisions on whether to run for office over the years, I’ve landed on a couple rules for parsing their answers:

  • When someone says something in the present tense — i.e., “I’m not running” — there is often a reason for that. It might be strictly true in that moment, but that doesn’t mean it will hold later on.
  • If you’re going to run for reelection, you generally just say that. Saying “I plan to” or adding some qualifiers suggests that eventuality is in doubt.

Which brings us to President Biden. Already the oldest president in history at 79, there have long been questions about whether his presidency might be a one-term proposition. And the choices of words from the White House and his allies invite the kind of parsing described above.

“He’s running, I expect to support him and help him get reelected,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the New York Times recently. “I’m sticking with that story.”

Added North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D): “I fully expect him to seek reelection, and I will support him.”

When Vice President Harris raised some eyebrows this week by telling the Wall Street Journal that she and Biden hadn’t discussed running again, a White House spokeswoman was asked about it and said, “He is planning to run for reelection in 2024.” Biden and the White House have previously stated it's his “expectation” or his “full intention” to run.

“Expectation.” “Planning to.” “I’m sticking with that story.” “Fully expect.” These are a lot of words, when “will run” would suffice.

That doesn’t mean any decisions have been made; it just means it doesn’t sound like a done deal, and they’re basically acknowledging as much if you look closely. There’s also the fact that polling shows Democratic-leaning voters narrowly prefer to have someone not named Biden on the ballot in 2024 — which is highly unusual. And as that Times story and others (including from The Post) have made clear, plenty of would-be successors are making the rounds in ways that suggest they feel like an open 2024 Democratic primary is something worth preparing for.

Which brings us to what happens then. Would Harris be the heir-apparent? Would we see many of the usual suspects from 2020 run again? Below, we rank some of the leading candidates who might run in that scenario, ranked in order of most likely to be nominated.

Others worth mentioning: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, former first lady Michelle Obama.

10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: One of the youngest members of Congress, the New York Democrat turns 35 — the required age to be president — in October 2024, shortly before the election. It still might be quite early, but few have shown a knack for rallying the grass roots like she has, and there could be something of an opening on the party’s left flank (for reasons we’ll get to later). Early polling also has her as one of the few people registering any significant amount of support when her name is offered. She has thus far declined a rumored primary challenge to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and it’s not clear when some other kind or promotion might open up.

9. Stacey Abrams: These lists are always circumstance-dependent. You have to consider not just how likely they would be to win if they ran, but how likely they are to run in the first place. In the case of Abrams, you also have to consider her 2022 race for Georgia governor — an office she narrowly lost in 2018 and is seeking again. If she wins the governorship (which will be tough in what should be a bad year for Democrats), she’ll instantly be a player. If she loses, there’s no way.

In a video posted to Twitter on Dec. 1, Stacey Abrams announced that she would enter the 2022 Georgia governor’s race. (Stacey Abrams | Twitter)

8. Mitch Landrieu: The former New Orleans mayor considered a presidential bid in 2020 but passed on it. Last month, though, came evidence he’s still in the game: Biden appointed him to oversee implementation of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. While he would come to the race with a low profile, he’s generally regarded as one of the most impressive figures in the party, and could be a wild card.

7. Gavin Newsom: Republicans gave the California governor a gift this year: a recall election that looked close for a time but wound up reinforcing Newsom’s political stock. He wound up defeating the recall by a historic margin. Newsom has denied a presidential run is on his radar, and you have to wonder how he might wear on the broader American public. But he’s clearly ambitious.

6. Cory Booker: Perhaps nobody in 2020 demonstrated unrealized political talent like the senator from New Jersey — with emphasis on the “unrealized” part. The good news for him is there’s some unrealized upside. Booker also recently headlined a major party fundraiser in New Hampshire.

5. Roy Cooper: There are a few obvious options on this list if the name of the game is to appeal to moderates and even Southern voters. Perhaps nobody fits that bill more than the two-term governor of North Carolina. He has won statewide office in every presidential election year since 2000 — even as his party has lost the state five of those six times — and he won the governor’s race in both 2016 and 2020 despite President Donald Trump carrying the state. He also seems to be workshopping a message to make sure Democratic voters know he’s not some kind of Joe Manchin clone.

4. Amy Klobuchar: If Democrats want Biden without actual-Biden — relatively moderate, inoffensive, etc. — the senator from Minnesota makes a lot of sense. At the same time, her best finish in a 2020 state was third place in New Hampshire.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) thanked supporters in Minneapolis on Feb. 22, 2020, the night of the Nevada caucuses, for their support of her campaign. (The Washington Post)

3. Elizabeth Warren: Bernie Sanders has said pretty unequivocally that another run for president isn’t in the cards (the senator from Vermont would be 83 on Election Day). And the one who benefits most from that might be the senator from Massachusetts, who often split votes from the most liberal voters with Sanders (though it’s not quite as simple as that). Both stuck it out in 2020 for a long time, even as more moderate candidates increasingly fell by the wayside. What might happen if one of them had that lane more or less to herself?

2. Pete Buttigieg: I’m not sure people realize how close we came to Buttigieg becoming the Democratic front-runner in 2020. His win in the Iowa caucuses was delayed because of vote-counting problems; then he nearly pulled a major upset in Sanders’s neighboring state of New Hampshire, losing by about one percentage point. Few were as good on their feet as the young mayor of a midsized city in Indiana. And come 2024, he would be running as a 40-something former Cabinet secretary.

1. Kamala D. Harris: Harris doesn’t have a monopoly on this spot — not hardly. Her 2020 campaign was rather uneven and didn’t end well, and she has not proven to be a popular vice president. But Democrats have a history of nominating vice presidents, including the last three they’ve had on the ballot (Walter Mondale in 1984, Al Gore in 2000 and Biden in 2020). And there are plenty of reasons Harris was picked for VP despite her 2020 campaign, including the demographics of the party. Were Biden to not run again, the next year-plus would be huge for Harris when it comes to showing she’s the candidate to beat.