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.

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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 Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again 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 CaseyTaking action to stop the sabotage and expand access to health care for Americans Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts MORE Jr. (Pa.), who some touted as a potential candidate after his reelection victory, said in January he would not run.

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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 BidenJoe Biden'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Hickenlooper laughs off lack of recognition by security guard at Democratic debate MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020. 

Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHouse panel to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency project Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate 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 SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates 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 CicillineThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts Hillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups 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 WarrenDon't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker calls for hearings on reports of ICE using solitary confinement Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate 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 GillibrandWarren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin Delaney2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate 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 Clinton'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Ocasio-Cortez on Biden: 'I think that he's not a pragmatic choice' 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.”