Brown Out, Beto In -- Another Look At The 2020 Democratic Race

[ Posted Monday, March 18th, 2019 – 16:46 UTC ]

It's time once again to cast our eyes over the ever-expanding Democratic 2020 presidential field, and as has been the case so far, we've got new commitments from a few more notable names to add into the mix. Oh, and one meta-addition, as the Democratic National Committee has now announced that Milwaukee, Wisconsin will be where the 2020 convention will be held -- which means that no matter who is nominated, we won't be able to say "if they'd only gone to Wisconsin..." this time around. So there's that, at least.

Of course, the biggest news (fittingly) came from Texas, as Beto O'Rourke formally jumped into the race, surprising absolutely no one. More on him in a moment, but his launch has so far been one of the biggest three in the field (the other two who made serious splashes so far were Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris). But again, we'll get to Beto in a bit.

Surprising almost everyone, however, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced he would not be running. I include myself in that "everyone," since it really did look like he was serious about running, right up until he bowed out of the race. Savvy Democrats sighed in relief, because if Brown had won the nomination and then won the presidency, by doing so he might have denied Democrats the chance of regaining control in the Senate. Ohio has a Republican governor, so if Brown switched jobs, it would mean the loss of one Senate seat to the GOP. Even so, I was sorry to see him decline to run because he is a very authentic guy and a champion of Labor and the middle class, and in my opinion he would have added a lot to the race. Plus, he knows how to win races in the Midwest.

Still playing coy (or "bidin' his time," as it were) is former Vice President Joe Biden. But at this point, if he decided not to run it would be even more surprising than seeing Sherrod Brown take a pass. Biden is quite likely waiting until after the end of the month, so he can start his campaign fundraising at the very start of a new fiscal quarter. So I'd expect to see a Biden announcement perhaps not on the first of April (heh), but soon thereafter. That's at the latest, though -- at the earliest, Joe could even throw his hat in the ring this week or the next.

Other updates of less import (according to the Wikipedia page which tracks who is in and who is not): apparently Andrew Gillum is about to announce something or another, and Andrew Cuomo is now listed as having declined a run. Oh, and another mayor has joined the race (well, with an exploratory committee, but that's good enough for us for now), a guy named Wayne Messam from Miramar, Florida.

This rounds out the field of Democrats who have held some sort of political office who are running at a new total of fourteen. One final note is that one other Democratic candidate who has never held political office -- Andrew Yang -- may have already qualified for the first debates, so eventually we'll have to add him into the list, we suppose. But not quite yet, because it's already tough enough to keep track of the experienced politicians who are running.


First Tier

We're going to stay with the rather wide definition of the top tier for now, which is roughly "those polling at around five percent or better." Eventually, we may tighten this to narrow the list of frontrunners, but for now it'll still do.

Beto O'Rourke is the big addition to the top tier, and he would have qualified on two separate criteria. First, the media loves him (so far). His announcement came with a cover story in Vanity Fair complete with a photo spread by Annie Leibovitz. That's some impressive free media coverage that most of the other candidates can only now dream about. However, now that his candidacy is a reality rather than a hypothetical, Beto is also drawing some heat from certain corners of the punditocracy. He's being heavily attacked from the right (because they fear his rock-star status) and he's also taking some heat from the left (because they are unsatisfied with his actual political record and his rather vague stances on all kinds of important issues). But that's what being a frontrunner is all about -- drawing attention (both good and bad) from all sides.

The big question with Beto was whether he could replicate in a presidential run his widespread support in the Senate race he ran against Ted Cruz. The initial answer to that question is: yes, he can. He just announced today that his first day of fundraising brought in an astonishing $6.1 million, all from individual donors (no PAC money, no corporate money). In his bid to defeat Cruz, he pulled in a whopping total of $80 million, but nobody was really sure whether that was largely "anti-Cruz" money from outside Texas or an actual solid base of support. So far, Beto's base looks pretty solid indeed. He bested the previous 24-hour record-holder in the donations category, since Bernie Sanders "only" managed to get $5.9 million in his first day running. These two totals absolutely dwarf all the other candidates' hauls, since the closest contender to Beto and Bernie in this category was Kamala Harris, who brought in a relatively-low (compared to the other two) $1.5 million in her first day on the campaign trail.

So Beto enters the race in the front tier, without doubt. His polling has yet to catch up to Bernie's, but it is already comparable to the other two candidates in the top tier, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Of course, we're all still waiting for "Uncle Joe." Once Biden announces his entry into the race, the top tier will have to be realigned to reflect his continued dominance in the polls. Biden regularly tops every poll that includes his name, beating Bernie out by a few points. For now, though, we've got four frontrunners that the rest of the pack is struggling to catch up to.


Second Tier

I keep wanting to demote Kirsten Gillibrand from the second tier category, but she's now relaunching her campaign and may make some news in the next week or so, so for the time being she'll remain with the rest of the middle of the pack. Gillibrand released a video with her official campaign announcement (she previously only had an exploratory committee), which contained a new slogan: "Brave Wins." She's also going to give her first official campaign speech right outside Trump Tower in New York City, so that should be amusing to watch. Whether it will translate into any bump in the polls is an open question though. Gillibrand desperately needs such a bump, because her polling has to date remained far behind everyone else in this category.

Two other senators are in the middle tier, and have been from the beginning. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar are running very different campaigns and have very different positions, but neither one of them has really caught all that much fire yet among the Democratic base. Both still enjoy a fair amount of media attention, though, so they are still far from out of it at this early juncture.

We do have one addition to the second tier this week, because we have to move "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg up from the third tier. This is due almost entirely to his media presence so far, as he has impressed many viewers in a widely-viewed cable television townhall appearance as well as in one-on-one interviews. You can see why his fans consider him "the real deal," since he is very well-versed and well-spoken about his stances on issues that matter to Democrats. He also took a few potshots at Mike Pence, who is a fellow Hoosier. Most Democrats don't focus on Pence that much, since Trump is the much bigger target, but being from the same state gives Buttigieg a unique perspective. Mayor Pete still has a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the second tier pack in the polling, but if he keeps turning in wonky and articulate media performances in consistent fashion, he may just begin to garner more attention from the voters. For now, though, his media breakthroughs are enough for us to move him up to the second tier.


Third Tier

The third tier is (and will likely continue to be) the largest of all. We've got six names here, even with the elevation of Buttigieg to the middle tier. Julián Castro, John Delaney, and Tulsi Gabbard haven't made much progress in getting people (both voters and the media) to notice them yet, which is likely to continue in the near future at least.

The two governors who jumped in the race last time around, John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee, have likewise not found much traction. Both of them are fairly new to the race, however, so they could always score a big media win in a townhall or otherwise boost their name recognition at any time. But, so far, neither one has noticeably managed this feat.

And finally, just for completeness' sake, we also have to add Florida Mayor Wayne Messam to the third tier. Now, big-city mayors have run for president before, but this seems to be the first time (in my memory at least) that we're seeing not-so-big-city mayors jump in the big race. South Bend, Indiana, where Buttigieg is mayor, has only just over 100,000 people and is the 301st-biggest city in the country. Miramar, Florida, where Messam is mayor, is a little bigger (being part of the Miami metropolitan area), but is still under 125,000 people and only the 190th-biggest city in America. In other words, we're not talking New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles here, folks.

Messam, so far, has gotten precisely zero media attention that I can tell, but again that could always change. Buttigieg moved up, so Messam could catch fire too. But at this point, it would be the most surprising movement to date within the ranks of the candidates.



I hesitate to even use that subheading, because it is still way too early to draw any solid conclusions from any of this. Most people (at least, those outside of Iowa and New Hampshire) are simply not paying attention yet. This is why Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are so far ahead in the polls -- because they're still the only two candidates with solid nationwide recognition.

The only real conclusion to draw is that we're probably more than halfway through "announcement season." The list of non-declared candidates (who have not ruled out a run and are at least considering the possibility) is slowly shrinking, while the list of declared candidates continues to grow on a weekly basis. But at this point, the end of the process is almost in sight, since there will be a realignment of the field after Joe Biden makes up his mind to run, and then a few weeks of aftermath as other Democrats either decide to take Joe (and the rest of the field) on, or to take a pass on a 2020 run. The biggest question I have been pondering is whether the 2020 Democratic field will wind up larger than the 2016 Republican field (17 candidates). It depends on how you count who is a serious candidate, of course, but so far it looks like the Democrats are on track to have an even bigger crowd than the GOP did last time around.

The first debates are scheduled for June, so that's about the latest anyone will even consider jumping in. But we've got over two whole months before we get to that point, so who knows who else will decide that 2020 is their year to run?

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


27 Comments on “Brown Out, Beto In -- Another Look At The 2020 Democratic Race”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Of course, the biggest news (fittingly) came from Texas, as Beto O'Rourke formally jumped into the race, surprising absolutely no one.

    Well, he does have the biggest hand movement. Is he crazy?

  2. [2] 
    neilm wrote:

    Well, he does have the biggest hand movement. Is he crazy?

    Beto has enough money to get some high quality media training - expect things to get slicker. He is going to be a very interesting character in this race - it was easy against Ted Cruz - he just didn't have to be a right wing nutcase - now he has to run against other Democrats and so will have to be a lot more granular in his positions, which might not suit him well.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    More granular. Yes, that is what he needs to be.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What I mean is, does he really think he was born for this?

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    This is why Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are so far ahead in the polls -- because they're still the only two candidates with solid nationwide recognition.

    Isn't this selling the voters a little short?

    I find it very hard to believe Sanders and Biden are floating on mere name recognition. Perhaps, these early polls are defining the parameters of the race.

  6. [6] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Beto has got to learn to speak without his arms making him look like one of Disney’s animatronic presidents short circuiting. I had the hardest time paying attention to what he was saying during his El Paso border speech because I couldn’t take my eyes off his arms!


    I don’t know if you watch the Canadian TV show “Letterkenny”, but I have become obsessed with it! The writing is brilliant and pegs “really small-town life” spot on. Yes, it can be crude, but so can life when you live in a place with less than 5000 folks. Just wanted to thank Canada for this gem, and since you are the only Canuck around, I offer my thanks to you.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You're welcome!

  8. [8] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Gillibrand released a video with her official campaign announcement (she previously only had an exploratory committee), which contained a new slogan: "Brave Wins."

    Brave wins? Isn't that sweet? Whatever happened to Kirsten "Two Rifles Under the Bed"? I would wager the NRA will have something to say about this "brave" stuff. :)

  9. [9] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    I have to admit, I don’t really see what the appeal is of Beto O’Rourke. For him to be topping Sanders in fundraising surprised me. Oh sure, I was itching for him to take Ted Cruz’s Senate seat. But what Democrat wasn’t? In 2018 the two relevant questions were “is he better than Ted Cruz?” and “do you want to take back the Senate?” Yeah no duh I wanted Beto to win. But as a presidential candidate? Meh. And that’s being generous considering how I feel about centrist Democrats. Also, his comments about being born to run for President or whatever(I don’t have the quote in front of me). Yeesh. I was embarrassed. I don’t know which is worse. The prospect that he actually believes himself to be the Chosen One or something. Or that he didn’t seem to realize how wacky that would sound when he said it out loud.

  10. [10] 
    Bclancy wrote:


    I agree. Biden and Sanders’ position at the top of the heap is unlikely to be merely name recognition. Sure they are the most famous candidates. But Bernie is(ironically) the Hilary Clinton of this race in the sense that Democrats mostly already know exactly how they feel about him -either very strong support or very strong dislike. I suspect a sizable amount of his support in the polls is fairly ironclad. He also has all that orginizational structure(and donor email list) he’s been building up for years.

    Biden probably evokes warm feelings for a lot of Democrats as the former VP of a popular(and fondly missed) administration. Among the candidates of a more centrist persuasion(though I don’t think it is particularly accurate or helpful to draw a hard distinction between “centrist” and “progressive” *voters* ), Biden is easily the most experienced. Though gaff-prone, he has an easy charm. None of the other more center-leaning candidates seem to have his charisma. And like Bernie, he is established enough to have an excellent organization and good contacts.

  11. [11] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Weigantia - where politics substitutes for real life. I wonder who's going to run in 2024?

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, Bclancy, what's your favourite Biden 'gaffe'?

    And, try not to use the google.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    OK, go ahead and use the google ...

  14. [14] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    My apologies for not replying sooner. I forgot I commented.

    My favorite Biden gaffe? Well, there was that time he challenged Donald Trump to a physical fight. I suppose you could challenge me on whether it was technically a “gaffe”, but I do believe it was ill advised(not that I wouldn’t pay money to see it happen though. And if it makes you feel better, I would definitely favor Biden to win that fight ;)

    If memory serves, there was also the time he used the term “Shylock” derogatorily. That was quite a while ago now. I don’t recall who he was referring to(as you requested, I did not use Google).

  15. [15] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    To be fair to Biden though, it’s not like Hillary Clinton(or Bernie Sanders, sorry to admit) have avoided saying some... unfortunate things. If you’re in your seventies, you have a lifetime worth of mistakes for unsympathetic observers to dredge up and use against you.

  16. [16] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller:
    If I may put a couple questions to you:
    1. Do you think it is incorrect to say that Biden has a tendency towards gaffes?

    2. If not, what do you think Biden’s weaknesses(or potential weaknesses) are as a candidate? And, for good measure, what in your opinion are his strengths?

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Biden never challenged President Trump to a fight.

    But, that is the kind of mistake the asinine media storyline on Biden often makes.

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:


    I'm not EM, but I'd say you nailed a perfect example. Good form. :)

    When a guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, "I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it," and then said, "I made a mistatement." They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman, and I said, "No. If we were in highschool, I'd take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him. I've been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life, and I'm a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room."

    Elizabeth frequently says that you can't beat Trump acting like Trump so by her own standards, that would definitely have to qualify as a huge gaffe. :)

  19. [19] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    Okay. I concede Biden did not challenge Trump to a fight. My recall of the event in question was innaccurate. Biden’s actual comment was quoted and linked to above by Kick(and Kick, thank you for the compliment, by the way!). I still contend that this comment was a gaffe, and that Biden makes gaffes. Now that I feel free to use Google, I will note that Biden also said almost the same thing back in 2016, when campaigning for Hillary Clinton:

    I think this was a regrettable thing to say. In the clip I linked, Biden starts out fine, with a very well delivered condemnation of Trump(over the Billy Bush tape). But saying he would(hypothetically) beat Trump up if they were(hypothetically) in high school together... it distracts from the overall point that Trump was shitty to say what he said on the Billy Bush tape. It invites Trump to turn this into a dick measuring contest about who is the tougher guy(and if I weren’t trying to be charitable to Biden, I might say Biden himself made this a dick measuring contest by implication when he said “I’d beat the hell out of him” and “I’m a pretty damn good athlete”). Ultimately Trump is wrong and shitty whether or not Biden could have(hypothetically) beat him up behind a(hypothetical) high school gym. And as much as we like to make fun of Trump’s appearance(or at least late night comedians do, and I laugh. I won’t speak for anyone else), it doesn’t really matter if he is fat and ugly. His behavior would still be shit if he was handsome.

    If Trump had made the comment Biden made, there is no way I would give him a pass. Suggesting one would commit(hypothetical) violence against another political leader adds little of value(as noted, it is irrelevant to the subject at hand, in this case Trump’s shitty behavior). And it gives one’s opponent an excuse to complain about threats of violence and claim victim status. It made it very easy for Trump to deflect the actual substantive criticism Biden was trying to make(I think he was trying to say that the Billy Bush tape is *not* how decent men talk to each other in locker rooms, and that decent men do not tolerate such behavior let alone participate in it. I think that’s what “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms” is meant to imply).

  20. [20] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    Also worth noting that Biden himself later expressed regret for his comment, saying “I shouldn’t have said what I said”

    From CNN: “Now, the idea that I would actually physically get in a contest with a President of the United States or anybody else now is not what I said," Biden told the podcast. "It is not what this was about, but I should have just left it alone.”

    Here’s the source:

    So I don’t think Biden would disagree that this was a gaffe.

  21. [21] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    The ball’s in your court.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Take another look at your link.

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So I don’t think Biden would disagree that this was a gaffe.

    Define gaffe.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    My favourite was the Bosniak 'gaffe'. Heh.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Which was a non-gaffe, naturally.

  26. [26] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    The purpose of my questions to you is to learn what your position is, and what the substance of your disagreement with me is(assuming there even is a disagreement). I have staked out a position which you have been calling on me to defend. I am willing to(continue) to attempt do so, but if I do, I think it’s only fair that you take a position that you can be called upon to defend(assuming you have one. If not, then there is nothing to debate). So far you have not taken a position, let alone made arguments to defend one. The most you have done is assert that I was wrong about Biden challenging Trump to a fight. Kick and I were the ones who troubled ourselves to find the actual video clips that proved your assertion correct(although that wasn’t Kick’s point, they were still the one who brought out the actual quote, not you).

    I have made specific claims that can be supported or discredited. While your comments seem to imply that you take a different view, I have no way of knowing what that view actually is: what you actually think about Biden. Perhaps we actually agree(or agree to a large extent), and you mostly take issue with my choice of words. Perhaps you think that Biden does say unfortunate or embarrassing things on occasion, but he’s really no worse than any other Democratic politician, and his reputation as “gaffe-prone” is just a media narrative(and you would probably have a decent chance of convincing me of this, if you wanted to). Or for all I know, you think that Biden is perfect, and that he has never, in his entire political career said something he later regretted, or made a mistake of any kind. This would be a pretty easy position for me to argue against(for starters, it is prima facie implausible). But I am deprived of the ability to argue against it, or any other position because you haven’t stated a position, except your earlier assertion that Biden didn’t challenge Trump to a fight. And this is no longer a point in contention.

    It should go without saying that you are under no obligation to stake out a position, or to defend it with arguments. But I am not going to continue debating if you don’t. And not debating you would be fine with me. I didn’t initially comment on this post looking for a debate(it was a casual comment agreeing with something you said).

  27. [27] 
    Bclancy wrote:

    I am loath to bring dictionary definitions into this, since the point at which people start debating the definitions of words is usually the point at which online debates have lost all focus and purpose. But FWIW, most dictionaries seem to define a gaffe simply as a mistake, blunder, or faux pas. Oxford emphasizes the reaction of the person who made it “an unintentional act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator”

    This aspect involving the regret or embarrassment of the statement’s originator is what I had in mind when I cited the article where Biden commented that he “shouldn’t have said what [he] said”.

    Now I ask:
    In your opinion, was the “I’d take him behind the gym.. [etc.]” comment a gaffe? If not, why not?
    Does Biden make gaffes?
    Does Biden make gaffes more regularly than other Democratic politicians?
    If Biden does not make gaffes, what weaknesses(or potential weaknesses) does he have as a candidate? And what are his strengths?

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