The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The top 10 Democratic presidential candidates for 2024, ranked

President Biden speaks as Vice President Harris, right, listens during a post-election Democratic National Committee (DNC) rally at Howard Theater in Washington on Nov. 10. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)
8 min

There was a time very recently when American presidential elections were said to be decided by two states: Florida and Ohio.

The bad news for Democrats is that the 2022 election confirmed those are now effectively red states — and how. Republicans dominated statewide in both of them, from governor on down, and won by double-digits in almost every race, even though the national election overall was a disappointment for them.

The good news for Democrats is that the rest of the Rust Belt and the Midwest in 2022 suggest the Trump era is wearing thin.

Democrats’ best states in the midterm elections — relative to other recent elections — were arguably Michigan and Pennsylvania. They won both governors’ races by double digits and added a win for U.S. senator in Pennsylvania. They also flipped both state legislative chambers in Michigan, taking full control of the state for the first time in nearly four decades. They had a good day in Minnesota, as well, sweeping the statewide offices and flipping the state Senate. (The verdict in Wisconsin was split — with an incumbent Democratic governor and an incumbent Republican senator both winning reelection.)

Toss in Democrats’ good night statewide in Arizona — which they also won in 2020 — and the electoral college doesn’t look like as much of a liability for them as it was in 2016, when Trump won despite losing the popular vote by more than two percentage points.

All told, if you acknowledge that Florida and Ohio are now red states and leave all the other 2020 swing states in the toss-up column, you start with Democrats and Republicans with very similar numbers of electoral college votes. But if those swing states in 2024 mirrored their performance in 2022, Democrats would have an edge, getting the party very close to 270 electoral college votes. That’s even without the swing states that split between their 2022 Senate and governors’ races (Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin) and even with Georgia staying red (the GOP won every statewide contest there except the U.S. Senate race, which is headed for a runoff Tuesday).

Michigan and Pennsylvania are particularly crucial in this regard, given that they have the largest numbers of electoral votes among the swing states (Georgia and Michigan both have 16, and Pennsylvania has 20). And you can bet Democrats will be working hard to solidify their gains in those states over the next two years.

Before we get to the 2024 general election, of course, there’s the matter of the 2024 primaries. President Biden’s stock appears to have improved, thanks to Democrats’ better-than-expected 2022 election, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a primary to contemplate — particularly if the now-80-year-old president doesn’t run again. Indeed, while Democratic lawmakers have rallied around him, the base is still historically unconvinced about nominating Biden again.

Below are our latest rankings. A reminder that they are in order of the most likely to be the nominee, which takes into account both their likelihood of running and their formidability if they do.

Others worth mentioning: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

10. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker: The recently reelected governor was obviously building toward a potential 2024 run even before the gubernatorial campaign concluded. And he used his election-night event to launch into a distinctly 2024-sounding speech, deriding the national GOP and presenting himself as a potential candidate if Biden does not run. Pritzker alluded to Trump’s impending campaign launch and went after the GOP as being “too cowardly, too simpering” to distance itself from Trump. (Previous ranking: n/a)

9. Josh Shapiro: Few candidates earned as many plaudits in 2022 as the Pennsylvania governor-elect. He benefited from a wholly flawed GOP opponent in Doug Mastriano, whom he defeated by 15 percentage points. But the hard-charging state attorney general polled very well throughout. A late-campaign AARP poll showed his favorable rating 17 points higher than his unfavorable rating. It would be difficult for him to launch a presidential campaign so soon after beginning his first term as governor, but you can bet a guy who just won so dominantly in such a key state is high on many Democrats’ lists. (Previous ranking: n/a)

8. Gretchen Whitmer: If you’re Democrats and Shapiro is looking good to you right now, the Michigan governor might look even better. Her win echoed his in many ways; she was popular and won in a swing state by double digits against a flawed, Trump-backed opponent. She would also seem to have more flexibility, given that she’s entering her second term. But a local news station recently pressed her on some perceived wiggle room in her 2024 plans, and she responded, “I’m not going to run for president in 2024. Period.” She added: “I can tell you, period, I am not running for anything in the next two or four years.” Things can always change, but that’s pretty ironclad. (Previous ranking: 4)

7. Bernie Sanders: One of the big results of the 2022 campaign: It appears to have reduced whatever appetite existed for a primary challenge from Biden’s left. Virtually all of the more prominent liberals have signaled they’ll defer to Biden if he does run. Those include the senator from Vermont (who gave the signal of deferral long before November, it bears noting). But if Biden doesn’t run? Sanders starts as the leader of the pack from the party’s left flank. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Gavin Newsom: The California governor says he told The White House recently that he would not challenge Biden if Biden were to run again. He’s also suggested he won’t run at all, regardless. We’re knocking him down this list because he’s making it more and more difficult to go back on the idea that he will not run. But we still don’t totally buy that it’s off the table. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Amy Klobuchar: Shortly before the 2022 election, the senator from Minnesota pushed back on Newsom’s claim that Democrats were “getting crushed on narrative” by Republicans. It was a notable comment — especially the part about how Newsom was “out there in California right now” while she campaigned for key Senate candidates — and it doesn’t look so bad in retrospect. We also tend to think the 2022 election benefited Klobuchar, given that her politics mirror Biden’s in certain ways, and voters seemed to reward Democrats for not having a lightning rod in the White House. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Jared Polis: The Colorado governor’s stock rose perhaps more than any other Democrat’s in the 2022 election. Colorado is a blue-trending former swing state where the GOP has problems. But even considering that, a near-20-point reelection win is pretty darn impressive. Polis combines things progressives love on issues like health care with an independent and sometimes libertarian streak, including being among the first Democrats to push the party toward a less-strict coronavirus posture — something we quickly learned he was ahead of the curve on. Asked recently about 2024 plans on HBO and by Axios, he played it off without dismissing it. It’s possible we could be talking about two candidates from whom one could be the first gay president. (Previous ranking: n/a)

3. Kamala D. Harris: Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported recently that Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff has been telling people that if Biden doesn’t run, the party should rally around the vice president. That’s the most logical course, historically speaking, but it’s hardly assured. As Martin summarizes, “Those doubts are shared by most Democratic lawmakers, whose dread about 2024 extends from the specter of nominating an octogenarian with dismal approval ratings to the equally delicate dilemma of whether to nominate his more unpopular vice president or pass over the first Black woman in the job.” (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Pete Buttigieg: We’ve had the transportation secretary ahead of Harris on this list for a while now. But it’s important to emphasize that a Biden-less primary would be wide-open, with no nailed-on, true front-runners. Buttigieg simply combines national stature with a studied talent for messaging that we think could do well in a second go-round of running for president. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. President Biden: Democrats have seemingly rallied around Biden after the party’s better-than-expected midterm showing. But that’s not necessarily the case with the base. The already-highly unusual number who prefer an alternative as their nominee in 2024 is largely unchanged. Biden’s team continues to send signals that he will run again, and the possibility of a contested primary is probably less than it was before (at least for now). But he’s just not the presumptive nominee that most incumbent presidents are. (Previous ranking: 1)