Dem presidential field looks smaller than expected

The Democratic field in the 2020 election is shaping up to be much smaller than originally anticipated.

While more than half a dozen Democrats have declared they are running for president or launched exploratory committees, it’s a significantly smaller crowd than the estimated two or three dozen that were once mentioned as would-be contenders. 

It’s still early in the cycle, and there’s time for more people to decide to get into the race.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Democrats now say they expect their primary season to include a dozen or so candidates, most of whom fall in the progressive lane that more and more appears to align with the party’s mood.

“The invisible primary separated the wheat from the chaff,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who thinks that if there is a smaller number of candidates, it will be good for the party.

“It makes the debates manageable and gives the serious candidates more time in the spotlight,” Bannon said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had signaled an interest in running for president, announced he would not enter the race last month. So did billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has been involved in an effort to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE. Long-shot candidate Richard Ojeda, a state senator in West Virginia, has already ended his campaign.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a favorite among top Obama aides, announced he would not run for president last year, as did former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyGOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report GOP senators: Trump should not declare border emergency during State of the Union MORE Jr. (Pa.), who some touted as a potential candidate after his reelection victory, said in January he would not run.

ADVERTISEMENT

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a longtime Democrat who was also rumored to run as a Democrat, announced last week he would likely run as an independent. 

His rollout was greeted with scorn by a number of Democrats, raising new doubts about the path to victory for a centrist.

Several politicians seen as contenders for the centrist lane, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden slams Trump immigration policies: 'It’s about xenophobia' GOP pollster says Michelle Obama one of Democrats' best surrogates Meghan McCain: 'Don't underestimate' Bernie Sanders MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020. 

Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism On The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Michelle Obama would be tied with Biden as frontrunner if she ran in 2020, poll shows MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Trump: Bernie Sanders 'missed his time' for White House MORE (D-Minn.), who both represent Midwest states and are widely seen as having appeal in Iowa as well as the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Democrats are desperate to win back from Trump.

Both have stopped short of backing the “Medicare for all” proposal from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (I-Vt.), which has emerged as an early litmus test for candidates.

Sanders also has not committed to a second bid for the White House, though many believe he will enter the race. Another would-be candidate still on the sidelines is former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Some of the centrist candidates may be waiting to see what Biden, 76, decides to do.

Biden is a front-runner in nearly every poll and if he does decide to run for president, many think others could decide not to get into the race.

One major Democratic donor said that Biden would clear the centrist lane should he decide to run.

If a dozen candidates enter the race, it would still be a relatively large field. But it would be much smaller than the crowd many Democrats had once anticipated.

A number of Democrats also thought the field would at least be as large as the 17 candidates who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

In December, Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineForeign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' Greedy tort bar tarts up the CREATES Act Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers MORE (D- R.I.) told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson “We’ll have 30 or 40, probably, great candidates running for president.”

In 2008, eight Democratic candidates competed in the Iowa caucuses and two more candidates withdrew before the contests began.

In 2004, nine Democrats battled in the primaries and one major candidate withdrew before the Iowa caucuses.

A number of big names are already in the Democratic race.

They include big players such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Trump: Bernie Sanders 'missed his time' for White House MORE (N.J.), who are all seen as serious contenders to win. Warren so far has only announced an exploratory committee, a step just short of the more formal announcements from Booker and Harris. But it is clear she intends to join the race.

Others who say they are running include former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, New York Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Meghan McCain: 'Don't underestimate' Bernie Sanders MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardDNC punts on measure to reduce role of corporate PAC money NBC, CNN to host first two Democratic presidential primary debates Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyDelaney: 2020 Dem primary a choice between socialism and a 'more just' form of capitalism NBC, CNN to host first two Democratic presidential primary debates 2020 Dem slams Green New Deal: As realistic as Trump's claim that Mexico will pay for wall MORE, the Maryland Democrat who has been in the race for more than a year.

David Wade, a Democratic strategist and veteran of presidential campaigns, said while he doesn’t believe “there was ever room for 20 candidates,” there are still incentives to run.

This includes the possibility that running for president could lead to a vice presidential nod or a Cabinet position.

Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Roger Stone invokes gag order in new fundraiser MORE — who also has been rumored to be considering another White House bid — said it’s a natural part of the process for would-be candidates to “flirt with a run” and then decide against it.

“Maybe in part because of how they see the field and focus shaping up,” Reines said. “Maybe because they don’t want to raise money. Maybe because they don’t want to kill themselves going through a brutal process that’s almost surely going to end in defeat.”