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 TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers 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 - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics Sen. Casey presses DNC for presidential debate in Pennsylvania License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenAndrew Cuomo: Biden has best chance at 'main goal' of beating Trump Poll: Buttigieg tops Harris, O'Rourke as momentum builds Buttigieg responds to accusation of pushing a 'hate hoax' about Pence MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020. 

Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharStudent slams Klobuchar for trying to classify pizza sauce as vegetable Pete Buttigieg: 'God doesn't have a political party' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics 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) SandersAndrew Cuomo: Biden has best chance at 'main goal' of beating Trump Poll: Buttigieg tops Harris, O'Rourke as momentum builds Buttigieg responds to accusation of pushing a 'hate hoax' about Pence 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 CicillineDem lawmaker: 'Quite clear' Trump committed impeachable offenses Dem lawmaker shares threatening voicemail he received after speaking out on the Mueller report Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings 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 WarrenJulián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Poll: Biden tops Sanders nationally Pete Buttigieg: 'God doesn't have a political party' MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJulián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Poll: Buttigieg tops Harris, O'Rourke as momentum builds Trump Jr. slams 2020 Dems as 'more concerned' about rights of murderers than legal gun owners MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris adds another to her list of endorsements in South Carolina The Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics 2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal 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 pledges not to use 'stolen hacked' materials in 2020 campaign 2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal Where 2020 Democratic candidates stand on impeachment MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal New 2020 candidate Moulton on hypothetical Mars invasion: 'I would not build a wall' Blockchain could spark renaissance economy MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin Delaney2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal Where 2020 Democratic candidates stand on impeachment Several 2020 Dems say they're ready to face Fox News town hall 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 ClintonTrump rips Krugman, NYT after columnist writes GOP no longer believes in American values Klobuchar jokes to Cuomo: 'I feel you creeping over my shoulder' but 'not in a Trumpian manner' Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment 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.”