Five Democrats who could be dark horses in 2020

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is a wide-open contest with no clear front-runner for the first time in years. 

While former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenHow Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships Sanders to meet with staffers as he does damage control MORE, Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeFormer staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Beto O'Rourke: Border wall 'will ensure death' MORE (Texas), and Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenMoveOn leaders stepping down before 2020 election Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships Native American leader asks when US will come to its ‘senses’ after Trump’s ‘racist’ attack against Warren MORE (Mass.) have drawn a lot of attention, Democrats say the 2020 race is anybody’s game. 


It’s a race that is expected to attract dozens of candidates, from big city mayors such as Los Angeles’s Eric Garcetti to bright new political stars such as former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid to win Georgia’s governorship. 

Democratic House lawmakers, including Reps. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 Swalwell: Trump will be impeached by Congress or by ballot box The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump invites leaders to White House | Trump hits back at Romney op-ed | Fights we're watching in the new year MORE (Calif.) and John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyMoulton to visit New Hampshire amid 2020 speculation Delaney pledges sole focus on 'bipartisan proposals' in first 100 days of presidency Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 MORE (Md.) — who has already announced his candidacy — are also in the mix.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it is a dark horse candidate — somebody we haven't even thought about —who ends up getting the nomination," said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. 

Here are five dark horse contenders who could win it. And a warning: There may be others.

Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Klobuchar dismisses mock campaign logo as something from 'very enthusiastic supporter' Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral MORE

The Minnesota senator has long been on lists of 2020 contenders, but always seems to be in the second breath behind other female colleagues in the Senate — including Warren, Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Sanders to meet with staffers as he does damage control Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration MORE (Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand and Booker play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Worker' game amid 2020 speculation O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships MORE (N.Y.). 

But Klobuchar shouldn’t be underestimated. 

A new poll of Iowa voters showed she’s in the mix in the neighboring state, and she won national attention during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael Kavanaugh5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MSNBC anchor speculates Trump has something 'pretty extreme' on Graham Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing MORE

“She showed a lot of grit,” said Democratic strategist Patti Solis Doyle, who served as campaign manager during Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs FISA shocker: DOJ official warned Steele dossier was connected to Clinton, might be biased Pompeo’s Cairo speech more ‘back to the future’ than break with past MORE’s 2008 presidential bid.  

In a year when women have dominated in politics across the board, Solis Doyle and others say Klobuchar should be a top contender. 

“There is no way that the Democratic Party will have two white men on the ticket in 2020 so each female candidate thinking about running should be given a close look,” she said.  

One key advantage for Klobuchar that could help her in comparison to colleagues Harris and Warren is that she hails from the Midwest, an area Democrats must win back from President TrumpDonald John TrumpPentagon update to missile defense doctrine will explore space-base technologies, lasers to counter threats Giuliani: 'I never said there was no collusion' between the Trump campaign and Russia Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles MORE in 2020. 

Mitch Landrieu 

The former New Orleans mayor caught the eye of Democrats after he delivered a powerful speech last year on the removal of Confederate monuments from his city. 

The speech went viral, leaving some wondering if a red-state Democrat like Landrieu could take the party by storm. 

Landrieu has kept a relatively low profile since leaving his mayoral office and Democrats who have spoken to him say he’s considering his options. 

Some Democrats see him as a candidate who could stand out in the crowd even as the party increasingly tacks left. 

“Before Obama, the two biggest Democratic dark horses have been Democrats holding local office, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDems should follow Bill Clinton's lead on minimum wage hike Feehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts Rosenstein, DOJ exploring ways to more easily spy on journalists MORE and Jimmy Carter,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “The South is becoming ever so slowly more friendly to Democrats. Landrieu could capitalize on that trend.”

Steve Bullock

Who can beat Trump? Maybe someone who won reelection handily in a state the president won solidly. 

Bullock, the governor of Montana, can tout his experience working with a legislative body that is largely Republican while presiding over a state economy with record-low unemployment and growth in industries including manufacturing. 

He’s shown all the signs that he’s prepared to launch a presidential bid, traveling to Iowa several times this year and quietly making the rounds on the fundraising circuit. 

He still lacks name recognition and that’s what’s hurting him now, one major Democratic donor said. 

“I’ll talk about him and the overwhelming reaction is ‘Who?’ If he fixes that, I think a lot of people will give him a good look,” the donor said.

Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration MORE

Democrats have been desperately hunting to find someone who could appeal to centrists and progressives alike and some see Brown, an Ohio senator who just won reelection in a state carried by Trump, as the solution. 

If Democrats can win back Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, they’d likely win the White House. Brown, a liberal on social policies who can sound like Trump on trade, is seen as someone who could appeal to voters in those states as well as his home state of Ohio. 

Brown has sounded more like a candidate testing a national message his his reelection victory, and it’s a message that has been geared to working-class Democrats. 

“Sherrod Brown has been a champion for America’s workers his entire career and America is just now catching on,” said Seth Bringman, a Democratic strategist who hails from Ohio. “He doesn’t cede one inch on progressive values and yet he wins Ohio handily because he is a fighter for struggling families at his very core.” 

Jay Inslee

The Washington governor’s profile has been on the rise in recent years and he has been drawing eyes to his policies and politics with appearances on national television. 

Most notably, he garnered attention after his state’s legal victories in blocking Trump’s travel ban last year. “He got thumped,” Inslee told CNN at the time, hitting back at Trump. 

More recently, he has sought to highlight climate change, an issue that will inevitably appeal to the base. 

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he said it was “absolutely imperative” for the Democratic Party to have a nominee who will champion the issue. “I believe it’s a potentially winning issue to run on,” he told the magazine. “And we need a candidate who will do that.”