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 TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated 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 CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines Pennsylvania school district turns down local businessman's offer to pay off student lunch debts 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 BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020. 

Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Dayton Democrat launches challenge to longtime GOP rep Dayton mayor: Trump visit after shooting was 'difficult on the community' MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 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 SandersJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Bernie Sanders vows to go to 'war with white nationalism and racism' as president Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' 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 CicillineHillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement Pelosi: Israel's Omar-Tlaib decision 'a sign of weakness' 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 WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture 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 GillibrandGillibrand: Rosy economic outlook not 'reflected in everyday, kitchen-table issues families are facing' Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members 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 ClintonLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate Progressive Democrats' turnout plans simply don't add up 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.”