The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The top 10 Democratic presidential candidates for 2024, ranked

President Biden delivers remarks alongside Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, left, last week. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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In late February we were all preoccupied with events elsewhere in the world — so you would be forgiven for having missed even a very interesting poll about U.S. politics. (We did, and we write about these things for a living.)

The poll, from YouGov, asked about the 2024 Democratic presidential primary; only 21 percent of Democratic-leaning voters said their choice was the incumbent Democratic president, Joe Biden. That put him barely ahead of the 18 percent who said they weren’t sure whom they supported; Vice President Harris and Bernie Sanders each had 14 percent shares.

This is not normal. We’ve seen some evidence that Democrats aren’t sold on nominating President Biden for a second term, including a poll in November showing a majority of Democrats didn’t want him to run again. But lots of Republicans say the same about a repeat run for Donald Trump in 2024 — yet he’s the clear front-runner when you pit him against actual would-be opponents.

Democrats need to decide what this means for them. Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that the best path forward is to pick a different nominee. But if Biden is intent on running again, do you allow a competitive primary that could put the choice in voters’ hands — and risk damaging the incumbent president, al a Jimmy Carter vs. Ted Kennedy in 1980? Do you subtly suggest to Biden that it might be better to pass the torch, and hope that it works? Or do you just hope things with his presidency get better?

These very important questions will probably have to wait until after Democrats see how the 2022 elections pan out. But in the meantime, we’ve seen the kind of jockeying you might expect in such a scenario. Biden hasn’t even been totally explicit that he will run again, which would seem to give the greenlight to others prepping for the case that he won’t.

With all of this in mind, we’re changing our approach to our quarterly presidential rankings. In previous installments, we excluded Biden from the list, suggesting we’d probably have a true primary only if he didn’t run. But we increasingly need to consider the possibility that, if he does run, he won’t have the field to himself — and that he might not be the most likely nominee, all things considered.

Below are our latest rankings.

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, Stacey Abrams, Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.)

10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The more obvious path for the 32-year-old congresswoman would be to bide her time for the right opportunity to run for Senate. She passed on a primary against Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) this year, but she would have a good shot against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in 2024. Or she could go for an even higher office, for which she polled at 6 percent in that YouGov poll. She doesn’t seem to be taking the kind of steps that others on this list are, but she would have a built-in base, and the progressive lane will be significantly more open this time, since Sanders has said he’s very likely out. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Gavin Newsom: Some California political watchers have noticed the governor seeming to weigh in more often in recent national political debates. “It’s painfully obvious Newsom wants to run for president one day,” SFGate’s Eric Ting wrote this week. Exactly how that would go down is less obvious. Newsom notched a big victory in a much-watched recall vote last year, but how he’d wear on voters outside the Golden State is a big question. Newsom practically exudes “West Coast liberal,” even as he’s probably a bit more moderate than some people realize. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Cory Booker: The senator from New Jersey was one of the most prominent faces of the Democrats’ effort to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, delivering some heartfelt lines about the momentousness of the occasion. His 2020 campaign came nowhere close to capitalizing on the promise of his early political career, but Booker is just 52 and could still have another act on the national stage. (Previous ranking: 6)

7. Sherrod Brown: The biggest shock of the early 2020 Democratic primary cycle might have been when the senator from Ohio unexpectedly passed on running. That was in part because he decided he wasn’t as invested in running as other Democrats were, and it’s possible that won’t have changed in 2024. But with Sanders out, there could be more of a space for his populist style of politics. And you can bet that plenty of establishment Democrats would put Brown very high on their list. One big wrinkle: He’s up for reelection in 2024, and he might not be able to fall back on seeking reelection in red-trending Ohio. (Previous ranking: n/a)

6. Roy Cooper: He might be the one leading contender you hear the least about. That’s partially due to his being a governor, but partially just Cooper’s style. If it’s a just-win-baby type of election, and Democrats want a Biden-style candidate (though not Biden himself), the North Carolinian checks lots of boxes. He’s also, like Brown, a repeat winner in a tough state that Democrats would love to put on the map. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Amy Klobuchar: The senator from Minnesota would seem to benefit from a Biden-free race, just like some of these others would benefit from a Sanders-free race. But how much? Her high-water mark in 2020 was 20 percent in New Hampshire, and she underperformed in Iowa long before Biden really kicked things into gear. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Elizabeth Warren: Sanders’s camp has suggested Biden will face a progressive challenger in 2024. But exactly who would that wing of the party line up behind? Politico reported recently that top Sanders aides have gotten involved in setting up the field for 2024 — but by pushing for Khanna to run rather than by building up Warren. Sanders and Warren have often been allies in the Senate, but their 2020 presidential campaigns got pretty ugly with one another. The senator from Massachusetts also has a reelection bid in 2024, which she has said she’ll pursue. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Harris: We’re dropping Harris down a slot this time. Being vice president is certainly a good launchpad, but it’s not at all clear Harris has put it to good use. Her numbers are similar to Biden’s, and she’s done little to change the perceptions that harmed her 2020 campaign, including on her ability to drive a message. There’s also no way she would run against Biden if he does run (while others might have seen wiggle room on that). On the plus side, Biden has committed to her being his running mate again. (Previous ranking: 1)

2. Pete Buttigieg: The transportation secretary moves ahead of Harris, but not with any great conviction on our part. He ran a good campaign in 2020 — we’ll repeat that he was very close to winning the first two contests — and would enter 2024 with more heft as a Cabinet secretary. Mostly, we’d expect a Biden-less race to be one of the most wide-open contests in recent memory. To the extent people don’t want Biden or Harris, he’s next in line just in terms of sheer plausibility. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Biden: Having said all of the above, things are often darkest for a president in a midterm election year. And Biden has both a pandemic and inflation to contend with. If those factors wane in the coming months, and after the 2022 midterms? The picture might be significantly different. If Republicans win some control of Congress, as appears likely, it could even help Biden politically, because he’ll have something to run against (even apart from Donald Trump). But mostly, we just wonder whether we’ll see him try to become the first-ever octogenarian presidential nominee.

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