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 TrumpMajority of Americans in new poll say it would be bad for the country if Trump ran in 2024 ,800 bottle of whiskey given to Pompeo by Japan is missing Liz Cheney says her father is 'deeply troubled' about the state of the Republican Party 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 CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act 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 BidenBiden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland 10 dead after overloaded van crashes in south Texas Majority of New York state Assembly support beginning process to impeach Cuomo: AP MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020. 

Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownNew spotlight on secretaries of state as electoral battlegrounds Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats barrel toward August voting rights deadline Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators 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 SandersBriahna Joy Gray: Progressives like Turner should reconsider running as Democrats Senate Democrats to introduce measure taxing major polluters Biden called Shontel Brown to congratulate her after Ohio primary win 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 CicillineThe State Department should rethink its Turkey policy McCarthy jokes it'll be hard not to 'hit' Pelosi with gavel if he is Speaker Lobbying world 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 WarrenHillicon Valley: Senators highlight security threats from China during rare public hearing | Facebook suspends accounts of NYU researchers who've criticized platform Democrats urge Amazon, Facebook to drop requests for Khan recusal Senate Democrats to introduce measure taxing major polluters MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisA permanent Child Tax Credit expansion will yield dividends to taxpayers Kamala Harris and our shameless politics Pelosi: House Democrats 'ready to work with' Biden on eviction ban MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory BookerHillicon Valley: Senators highlight security threats from China during rare public hearing | Facebook suspends accounts of NYU researchers who've criticized platform Democrats urge Amazon, Facebook to drop requests for Khan recusal Women urge tech giants to innovate on office return 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 GillibrandMajority of New York state Assembly support beginning process to impeach Cuomo: AP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo defiant as Biden, Democrats urge resignation The Memo: Disgraced Cuomo clings to power MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard on Chicago mayor's decision to limit media interviews to people of color: 'Anti-white racism' Fox News says network and anchor Leland Vittert have 'parted ways' New co-chairs named for congressional caucus for millennials MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyDirect air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Lobbying world Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis 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 ClintonBriahna Joy Gray: Progressives like Turner should reconsider running as Democrats Biden wishes Obama a happy birthday Ohio special election: A good day for Democrats 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.”