How Dem insiders rank the 2020 contenders
Democrats predict that as many as 30 candidates will compete in their party’s presidential primary in 2020.
And while it’s still too early to say who might come out on top, buzz is building around some potential candidates, even as other hopefuls fade to the background.
A year after a devastating 2016 defeat, Democrats are craving new faces with fresh ideas. Yet many of their leading contenders for the White House in 2020 are politicians who have been around for decades.
There’s also no clear standout in the potential field.
“You have a bunch of Celine Dions but there’s no Beatles,” said Phil Singer, a Democratic strategist who served as press secretary on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run.
The fortunes of potential candidates can change quickly. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), for example, was regarded just a few weeks ago as a potential dark horse candidate in 2020, but that changed instantly when sexual misconduct charges surfaced against him.
The Hill interviewed nearly a dozen prominent Democrats to find out who has captured the party’s attention in recent months and who has fallen out of favor.
Here’s how they see the field stacking up right now.
1. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Advisers to the senator are telegraphing that Sanders is eyeing a 2020 run — and his network is already ready to go, with supporters convinced that he was the candidate who would have beaten President Trump in 2016.
“His people have never gone away,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “And he has a loyal core following out there that will be with him come hell or high water.”
Also working in Sanders’s favor, Bannon said, is the leftward shift of the Democratic Party.
“The Sanders wing is becoming the dominant wing of the party,” he said.
Still, strategists note that Sanders would be 79 in 2020, which could work against him at a time when Democrats are hungry for change.
2. Joe Biden
The former vice president’s book tour has kept him in the spotlight at a time when Democrats are nostalgic for the Obama years.
While playing it coy about his 2020 plans, Biden has consistently been talking about Democratic values and how the party can win back frustrated blue-collar workers who voted for Trump.
“He’s the perfect antidote to Trump,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). “And he has broad appeal in areas of the country we have to win.”
Added Singer: “He probably has the best voice at this stage of the game.”
With sexual harassment back in the headlines, however, Biden has faced new criticism recently for his treatment of Anita Hill, an attorney who accused her then-boss Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during hearings in 1991.
Hill told The Washington Post this week that Biden has yet to take “ownership” for how she was treated during the hearings; at the time, Biden was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. Biden apologized recently, but Hill said it wasn’t enough.
If he chooses to run, Biden will also have to contend with his age. He’ll turn 78 in 2020.
3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Many Democrats say women are having a moment — so why not nominate a woman who is wildly popular with the Democratic base?
Every strategist and political observer interviewed by The Hill mentioned Warren consistently as a top contender for 2020. Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons was one of them; he said the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations makes it more likely that a woman wins the 2020 nomination.
“I’m not sure a man can get nominated as the Democratic nominee right now,” Simmons said. “There are some who could and should, but the level of vetting on male candidates will be more intense than normal. Democrats should be looking for people to capture this energy that is out there right now and I think Elizabeth Warren belongs at the top of that list.”
Two things not in Warren’s favor: There’s no love lost for her in Obama World, and she’d be 71 by the time 2020 rolls around.
4. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
When Democrats talk about “fresh blood” in the party, many point to Harris, the freshman senator who has proven time and again since arriving in the upper chamber that she’s not afraid to speak her mind.
Harris gained national attention when she was twice shushed by Republican senators during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
Video of those moments went viral, boosting her presidential stock.
“She is the real deal,” said one Democratic strategist. “She’s smart and unapologetic. Her biggest problem is that she likens herself to being the female Barack Obama and she should really just be herself.”
Donors have taken note of her talent, as Harris made an appearance at a July event in the Hamptons surrounded by some of the party’s biggest financial powerbrokers.
Still, Harris has yet to be tested in the national spotlight, and she’ll have to convince the party faithful that she has what it takes to win.
5. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
When Hillary Clinton was looking for a running mate, there was a growing consensus in the party that she should pick the Ohio senator.
Besides the fact that he represents a key swing state, political observers think Brown is a Democrat who would appeal to both centrists and progressives.
“He knows how to go into tough districts in a tough state and win,” Israel said. “I think he blends populism with pragmatism. He’s viewed as someone who has a pragmatic approach and populist values.”
The Democratic strategist added, “He’s probably the one who Clinton should have picked. A lot of us have said that. And who knows? Maybe he could have tipped the scales.”
6. Deval Patrick
The former Massachusetts governor caught the attention of some top Democratic donors after news reports surfaced this summer that Obama allies like Valerie Jarrett and David Simas were encouraging him to run.
The report was seen by some as a “blatantly overt” attempt to lay the groundwork for Patrick, one fundraiser told The Hill in September.
“A lot of people in our world see Deval as the one who will carry the Obama legacy.”
Another Democratic donor said in an interview that Patrick falls under “something different.”
“I think people are looking for someone outside D.C., outside the norm, and he fits the bill,” the donor said. “The problem is, who knows. Maybe by then we won’t want something different.”
— Updated 8:31 a.m.