The Miles-Wide 2020 Democratic Field

[ Posted Thursday, January 10th, 2019 – 17:55 UTC ]

I thought we could all use a break from all the manufactured Trump Shutdown follies today, so instead I am finally giving in and writing the inevitable first (of many) columns on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race. I've largely restrained myself from doing so up until now, even though I could have started in right after the midterm elections last year. But now a few Democrats are more-officially sticking their toe in the 2020 water, so it seemed like a good time to provide an initial overview.

Such an overview is going to have to be from about 30,000 feet up, though, because at this point that's about how high you have to get to fully view the Democratic field, which is already miles-wide. There are so many Democrats either running, thinking about running, rumored to be running, or declining to run right now that it's hard to even get an accurate count of them all. So we're not going to have much time for candidate-by-candidate analysis, rather just a series of long lists of who currently falls into which category. This field, of course, will narrow (at least somewhat) as time goes on, so we'll have plenty of time later for discussions of "lanes" and frontrunners-versus-underdogs and all the rest of the horserace hoopla, never fear. For now, though, we're just going to provide the initial (very long) list.


Definitely not running

Right from the start, let's start eliminating names, so we'll never again have to bring these folks up. That'll save some future column inches for discussions about those who are actually running. I should mention that all my data has so far been taken from the Wikipedia page on the 2020 Democratic primary race. I should also mention that all of my lists are mere subsets of the full lists they provide -- meaning there are even more names on their lists than I am willing to take even slightly seriously, at this point. So you can check out their lists if there is someone you were looking for that doesn't appear here. Oh, and all lists appear in alphabetic order, so as not to show favoritism even this early on.

OK, in the "definitely not running" category, we so far have:

  • Michael Avenatti
  • Jerry Brown
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Andrew Cuomo
  • Jamie Dimon
  • Rahm Emanuel
  • Al Gore
  • Tim Kaine
  • John Kerry
  • Gavin Newsom
  • Michelle Obama
  • Martin O'Malley
  • Deval Patrick
  • Tom Steyer

Also listed (but considered too unserious for my list) were Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. These are all people who have either made formal announcements that they are not running (like Michael Avenatti, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O'Malley, Tom Steyer, and others just made), or have expressed zero interest in launching such a run personally.

Could any of these decide to make a late-game entry? People like Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Jerry Brown have already run presidential campaigns, so they could conceivably hit the ground running at a later date, but at this point it's hard to see any of them changing their minds. They all see themselves as presidential material, to be sure, but they also know how large the field is going to be this time around.


Officially running (Who, now?)

So far, this is a very thin category, because it is defined as someone who has not just formed an "exploratory committee," but has actually filed paperwork that officially declares the candidacy -- something people like Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro have yet to do.

So far this category consists of hundreds of names, most of them cranks or gadflies of one sort or another. Wikipedia only lists two who have ever previously held office: John Delaney, a former House member from Maryland, and Richard Ojeda, from the West Virginia state senate. Ojeda just ran for the House in West Virginia, and lost. This will likely be the last time I ever mention either man's name, because it's really, really hard to consider either one of them a serious candidate.


Almost certainly running

This is a mix-and-match list for me, as it involves not just Wikipedia's criteria but also a bit of gut feeling on my part. These folks are almost certainly going to run, no matter how far along they've gotten in filing their election paperwork. To state this a different way, I would be very surprised if any of these candidates didn't end up running. Here's my list of people I consider sure bets to run:

  • Cory Booker
  • Julián Castro
  • Kamala Harris
  • Jay Inslee (Washington governor)
  • Beto O'Rourke
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Elizabeth Warren

As you can see, all of these politicians -- with the lone exception of Jay Inslee -- already have national name recognition. I didn't need to specify job titles for them, because everyone in the Democratic base already knows who they are. All have hinted (or even more) that they'll be running in 2020. Some are actively out on the campaign trail already. Inslee's on the list because he already has formed an exploratory committee (as has Elizabeth Warren). But I would be shocked if anyone on this core list decides not to run, personally.

This starts us off with a list of seven major candidates. That's a lot already, but we're far from being done looking at who will be running to beat Donald Trump.


Will probably run

These are less certain, but they're all still a pretty good bet to run. All of them have publicly expressed an interest in running, and many of them have been spotted in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina in recent days. Some are more plausible candidates than others, but all of them could eventually be on the list of Democratic candidates.

  • Joe Biden
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Sherrod Brown
  • Pete Buttigieg (Mayor of South Bend, Indiana)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • John Hickenlooper (Colorado governor)
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Eric Swalwell (House member from California)

I felt the need to list their previous status for three of them, since they are lesser-known than the others on the list. It's kind of hard to see Pete Buttigieg or Eric Swalwell emerge from the Democratic field in a frontrunner position, but then again stranger things have happened. The others all have much higher name recognition with Democrats, which will obviously increase their potential as candidates.

Out of the eight names on this list, it wouldn't surprise me if at least five or six of them threw their hats in the ring. Conservatively, this would give us a field of at least twelve or thirteen names already. If all of them ran, we'd be up to a field of fifteen. And we haven't even gotten to the biggest list of all.


Could run

Finally, we have the list of those who still have to be seen with a question mark after their names. They haven't openly started campaigning and are being coy about talking about their plans. But it's a sure bet that running for president has at least crossed the minds of all of them.

  • Stacey Abrams
  • Michael Bennet
  • Bob Casey Jr.
  • Mark Cuban (Texas sports team owner)
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Eric Garcetti (Mayor of Los Angeles)
  • Eric Holder
  • Mitch Landrieu (Mayor of New Orleans)
  • Terry McAuliffe
  • Jeff Merkley
  • Tim Ryan
  • Howard Schultz (former CEO of Starbucks)

Once again, this isn't even the full list up on Wikipedia, because I had to mentally cross a few names off as being too unlikely while writing this. Even after such filtering, there are still an even dozen names on that list. All of them may run or none of them may run, but the safest bet here would be somewhere between those two extremes -- at least a few of them will probably make a run for it. How many that turns out to be is still an open question, of course. Almost all of these folks (with a few notable exceptions) are going to have to work very hard at name recognition, should they decide to run. They will start with this disadvantage, although in such a large field it could be overcome -- you never know who is going to catch fire out on the campaign trail, after all.



There's not much to conclude, this early on. The only safe conclusion I would even make at this point is that there will be at least one candidate in the eventual Democratic field (and possibly multiple candidates) that I haven't even bothered to list here today. The field is really that wide-open. Every Democratic politician under the sun has been looking in the mirror and saying: "That guy/gal could beat President Trump!" just to send shivers up their spines. And who knows which of them might prove to be right, at this point?

Even taking a stab at the total size of the field is really a fool's game at this point. If pressed, I'd have to guess "in the range of 16-to-20 major candidates," but I could easily be wrong (although I have to say it'd surprise me more if that turns out to be an overestimate of the total field than an underestimate).

One way or another, no matter who decides to run and who doesn't, the 2020 Democratic nomination race is guaranteed to be a wild ride. That, at least, I can predict with confidence. It's going to be an even-wilder ride than the 2016 Republican primary season (which is saying a lot). The debate stages are going to be packed. There will be lots to choose from as voters decide on their favorites. The winnowing process is likely going to be quite brutal, at times.

The one thing that's going to be on every Democratic voter's mind, though, when considering the plethora of candidates, is obvious even this far in advance: "Can this person beat Trump?" Because that -- and almost nothing else, really -- is going to be the main deciding point for Democrats in 2020. Who is the best candidate to take on Trump? That's who needs to win the Democratic nomination.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “The Miles-Wide 2020 Democratic Field”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Almost certainly running

    This is a mix-and-match list for me, as it involves not just Wikipedia's criteria but also a bit of gut feeling on my part.

    Cory Booker
    Julián Castro
    Kamala Harris
    Jay Inslee (Washington governor)
    Beto O'Rourke
    <---------- Wait, what?

    Your "gut" has changed its "feeling," no? ;)

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    We could all use a break (from now until at least after the 2020 election) from the our elections are between the Deceptocrats and RepubliCONS manufactured folly.

    While you're up there at 30,000 feet why not provide an overview of the entire set of options and not just the party line lesser of two evils choices?

    The reason we have the shutdown is because each side believes they can get voters to blame the other side. That only works when there are only two choices.

    And when both "sides" are to blame and both are corrupted by the Big Money interests there really aren't two choices- there are no choices.

    By not providing options now that citizens can begin to work on in 2020 you guarantee that in 2022 and 2024 you will be writing the same articles aboot the same issues while pull and plugging different names.

    That is not the CW that was supporting Bernie in 2015. Was that CW just an momentary diversion?

    Whatever it was it was better than the current CW promoting the Big Money Deceptocrats.

    This election (2020) is too important to spend promoting the status quo when just the opposite is needed.

    It's time to get back to where you once belonged.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "It's kind of hard to see Pete Buttgieg ... emerge from the Democratic field in a frontrunner position"

    Spelling error CW, it's Buttigieg.

    Problematic spelling and pronunciation as well as recognition.;-)

    He pronounces it roughly:

    "Boot" (as in footwear) - "i" as in inn and gieg rhymes with edge.

    Bigots and late night comedians will naturally have a field day with his name/sexual orientation.

  4. [4] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    I can well remember back when I thought there was only one member of the Democrats who could NOT beat Trump. Anybody care to guess who that was?

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Two years from now, the state of affairs in the US is going to be dire, to put it mildly.

    I hope Democrats choose wisely. And, it wouldn't hurt for some of them to encourage Jerry Brown to get off of the 'definitely not running' list.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Do you seriously think that Hillary could hit the ground running should she decide to make a late run?

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, update:

    Julian Castro -- officially in.
    Tulsi Gabbard -- will be officially in tonight (CNN)

    OK, now to comments:

    Kick [1] -

    My gut goes back and forth on Beto. But his "listening road trip" kind of indicated to me that he's more serious than I had thought.

    TheStig [3] -

    Really? Dang, I checked that one like three times, since it was obviously unique. Must've missed that extra i each time... I'll go back and fix it, promise!

    C. R. Stucki [4] -

    OK, I'll bite. Who?

    LizM [6] -

    Yeah, I think she could. I don't think she'd get very far, though. But she has run two national presidential campaigns already...


  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    There... fixed the name...


  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    The big thing I can see going for Howard Schultz's bid is that he already has campaign headquarters in place on every block of every major community in the United States. Sometimes more than one latent HQ on every bookstores and big box retailers!

    Suggested campaign slogan "America...Wake Up and Smell the Schultz!"

Comments for this article are closed.