The 2020 Democratic Field Expands

[ Posted Monday, February 4th, 2019 – 17:25 UTC ]

[Program Notes: I have two program notes to begin with today. The first is that hopefully the site is now living on its final destination server, and that this article won't disappear right after I post it (as last Thursday's did). But you never know -- we could experience further gremlins up to perhaps midday tomorrow. We're not out of the woods yet, but hopefully will be by this time tomorrow. Which brings me to my second program note, since tomorrow is the State Of The Union day. As usual, I will watch the speech and make notes, and then write up my snap reactions to both President Trump and Stacey Abrams immediately afterwards. So there will be a new column tomorrow, but it'll be posted late, after the speeches. Oh, and one last note -- since today's column may have technical problems, I chose to write a pretty generic one. Just to warn everyone.]


It has been a few weeks since we last took a look at the ever-expanding 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, so I thought it'd be a good time to update the first article I wrote on the horserace.

To stretch the analogy a bit further, I should point out that this can't even really yet be called a proper "horserace" column, since I'm not ready yet to begin examining the candidates' relative strengths, weaknesses, or viability. Once the field gets a little more settled, we'll have plenty of time for such comparisons later. All I'm doing so far is updating the scorecard with the list of the horses running, before the race really begins. So far, this has mostly meant additions, although we do have one scratched candidate to report already.

So the only question to answer at this point is who is running and who is not (all data so far is taken from the Wikipedia 2020 Democratic primary race page, I should mention).


Definitely not running

There was one prominent addition to this list today, as Representative Adam Schiff announced (in New Hampshire, of all places!) that he won't be running for president. In addition, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Senators Bob Casey Jr. and Jon Tester, and Representative Maxine Waters have also publicly announced they aren't running.

This means the "definitely not running" category now contains:

  • Stacey Abrams
  • Michael Avenatti
  • Jerry Brown
  • Bob Casey Jr.
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Andrew Cuomo
  • Rahm Emanuel
  • Eric Garcetti
  • Al Gore
  • Tim Kaine
  • Gavin Newsom
  • Michelle Obama
  • Martin O'Malley
  • Deval Patrick
  • Adam Schiff
  • Tom Steyer
  • Jon Tester
  • Maxine Waters

From the last column, a caveat to this list:

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.

We're also not bothering to count Joe Scarborough, because we still tend to think of him as a Republican, and we've got enough actual Democrats to keep track of already.

So far, nobody on this list has changed their mind and decided to jump into the race. It's such a wide-open race that I'd be surprised if at least one of these names doesn't eventually make a last-minute bid, although that's just a gut feeling (meaning I'm not now looking at any one name in particular to do so).

Not on this or any list here -- because she is not constitutionally qualified -- is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She's still too young to run (the earliest she could possibly run is 2024, if memory serves). Just in case anyone was wondering where her name should go.

I should also mention that I'll probably stop running this particular list in the future, as it's going to get pretty big. Going forward, I'll just list those that have made recent announcements that they won't be running rather than provide the full list again.


Dropped out

As early as it still is, we've already got one candidate who, upon reflection, decided to exit the race. Richard Ojeda quit his West Virginia state senate seat to fully focus on his presidential bid, but then after only two weeks decided that he simply wasn't going to be able to compete. He officially announced the end to his run, making him the first candidate to bow out. This list will, over time, grow a lot bigger.


Officially running

The list of who is officially in the running grew considerably over the past few weeks. This includes people both people who have formally launched their campaign as well as those who have just announced an "exploratory committee."

Last time around, there were only two names on this list, John Delaney and Richard Ojeda. Ojeda's already out, but seven others are now keeping Delaney company. We've only just begun, and there are already more Democrats running for the nomination than the total who ran in 2016, to put this another way.

Here is the new full list of declared 2020 Democratic candidates:

  • Cory Booker
  • Pete Buttigieg (mayor, South Bend, Indiana)
  • Julián Castro
  • John Delaney
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Kamala Harris
  • Elizabeth Warren

So that's four senators (three of whom are women), two House members, and one current and one former mayor (although Julián Castro was also in President Obama's cabinet as well). Again, this list is expected to keep growing for at least the next few months.


Almost certainly running

A lot of the names on our previous list in this category have since declared their candidacy. We also added a few people who seem to be getting more serious about running.

  • Sherrod Brown
  • Jay Inslee (Washington governor)
  • Beto O'Rourke
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Eric Swalwell

Brown is in the midst of a "listening tour," and will likely announce at the end of it whether he's running or not, but it seems like a pretty good bet at this point. Sanders has been teasing a "big announcement" for the past week or two, but hasn't followed through as of yet. Swalwell also seems to be gearing up, although he isn't as sure a bet as the others to make a run.

So we've got two additional senators waiting in the wings, plus one governor, one House member, and one failed Senate candidate from Texas.


Will probably run

The next list is of possible contenders who seem interested but less so than others who have taken concrete steps along the path (like a listening tour or visiting the early primary and caucus states).

  • Joe Biden
  • Michael Bennet
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • John Hickenlooper (Colorado governor)
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Terry McAuliffe

Former vice-president Biden is the biggest question mark remaining in the Democratic field, because he alone could completely shake up the race with his announcement (no matter what he decides).

Senators Bennet and Klobuchar are both weighing their options, but haven't made any strong indications what they'll decide. Michael Bloomberg seems on the brink of deciding not to run, if his back-and-forth with Howard Shultz was any indication (more on Schultz in a moment). Governors Hickenlooper and McAuliffe both seem headed for a run at this point, but they could always decide to back out as well.


Could run

This is a much more speculative list, seeing as how most of the people on it will likely decide not to run. But any of them could decide to get in the race and it wouldn't surprise many people.

  • Steve Bullock (governor of Montana)
  • Mark Cuban (Texas sports team owner)
  • Eric Holder
  • Bill De Blasio (mayor of New York City)
  • John Kerry
  • Mitch Landrieu (mayor of New Orleans)
  • Jeff Merkley
  • Tim Ryan

This list shifts a lot. Some people decide not to run and drop off, while others are added as speculation about the field widens. Wikipedia also lists Angelina Jolie as a speculative candidate, but as previously mentioned, I'm comfortable with just ignoring the vanity candidates for now.

Speaking of vanity candidates, there is one big name that won't be running as a Democrat -- but may just run as an Independent. Ex-C.E.O. of Starbucks Howard Schultz certainly sounded mighty interested in a third-party bid last week, but he may be having second thoughts about doing so after his teasing went over like a lead balloon (unless you count Donald Trump cheering him on). Schultz running a third-party candidacy will indeed shake up the race if he decides to go ahead, but it's impossible to tell by how much or even in what direction at this point. His spokespeople now say he's thinking things over and may not make any final decision until the summer, so the prospect of a Schultz run is going to be hanging over the whole race like a shadow until he makes up his mind. But it seems certain, at this point, that if he does run it won't be as a Democrat.



Nothing really to conclude, once again. It's way too early for drawing conclusions about anything other than the eventual size of the field, which may become the largest field in Democratic Party history.

We've already got eight serious declared candidates. Their respective political viability differs, but it's too early to even get into that, since the declared candidate list is going to grow considerably in the upcoming weeks. Rudimentary polling is beginning to take place, but at this point the data really only measures name recognition with the public.

The pundits are already trying to divide up the field into "lanes," but the entire concept of viewing the race in such a fashion may be a fool's game. Predicting which candidate would dominate which "lane" didn't work out so well for the 2016 Republican field, after all. Otherwise Jeb Bush would have been the nominee, right?

Snark aside, I do have one final point to make that many in the political prognostication business have not adequately considered yet. Because speculation about "which Democratic candidate can win a majority of primary votes" is the wrong way to think about what is going to happen, at least at first. Again -- remember the 2016 GOP race. With a field so wide and with multiple strong candidates, there will likely be no majority vote winner in the first primaries and caucuses. Someone will win a plurality of the votes, but that's about it. The vote is going to be so split between so many candidates that someone could walk away as the "winner" of a state with only something like 20 percent of the total vote.

That's how Trump did it, after all.

Trump didn't start winning actual majorities in the GOP primaries until the field had shrunk to just him and a few others. This is likely what will happen on the Democratic side as well, this time around. Meaning one candidate may edge the others out, but not be the choice of a majority of the primary voters. What this means for the whole race is uncertain, but it's intellectually lazy to just ponder who will win a majority in the early states. Personally, I am going to be interested in digging into the weeds of how the actual delegates get apportioned in the early primary and caucus states, because this may become very important. And an even more unsettling thought to close on -- with this many candidates winning delegates here and there, it increases the chances that no single candidate will go to the Democratic convention with a majority of delegates -- which would lead to a wide-open convention.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “The 2020 Democratic Field Expands”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    My sincere and heartfelt apologies to everyone.

    I thought we were out of the woods. I even posted a comment to this article stating unequivocally that we were, indeed, out of the woods.

    Turns out we weren't, though.

    What happened was that all the routers in the universe finally caught up to our server migrations. It's the same thing that happened last Thursday.

    When migrating, a copy of our database (containing all my articles and all of everyone's comments) was made on the new server. Meaning TWO databases existed at the same time. What then happened (in both cases) is that I posted an article and you all posted comments that were still being pointed at the OLD server.

    The DNS server system (name servers) takes a while to propogate new information. So while my URL name was changed to point at a new server, it takes 24-36 hours to propogate this information out to all the name servers on the web. So for a while, we were all happily posting to the old server, and then at some point the switchover happened and we were all looking at the new server. Which didn't have the new article, and didn't have everyone's comments.

    This has now happened twice, and a lot of hearfelt comments were lost.

    I deeply apologize for the loss, but the time and energy it would take to revive them is monstrous. So I'm not going to do so. It might take me the rest of the week to engineer it, and I'd rather write new columns.

    The good news is that we are now FINALLY really out of the woods.

    Everyone in the universe is now pointing at the correct new server, and the database will be fine going forward. The upgrade process was physically over on Monday, but by now the rest of the DNS servers have updated, and we'll never be pointing at the old servers again.

    Again, my apologies for the lost comment threads. But I've just posted my SOTU review, so let's all head over there and start some new threads.

    This is the only time I've had to migrate servers in 12 years of this website's life, so while it was harsh and things got lost, it will not happen again for a LONG time, that I can promise.

    Again, my apologies. Mea culpa maxima.


  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    Nice rundown, CW.

    I have it on good authority that if Biden decides to run, Bloomberg won't be running. So we shall see.

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