Top Democrats who could win presidential nomination

The first debates are done, second-quarter fundraising totals are rolling in and the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is intensifying.

Here are The Hill’s latest rankings of the top contenders.

1. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate Democrats propose corporate minimum tax for spending package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Budget negotiators: 72 hours and counting Democrats face critical 72 hours MORE (D-Mass.)

Warren is not leading in any national polls — yet. But she is on the rise and her message on the stump is resonating louder than anyone else’s.

The Massachusetts senator also appears to be on the brink of supplanting Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight On The Money — Senate Democrats lay out their tax plans Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — FDA advisers endorse Pfizer vaccine for kids Manchin: 'I think we'll get a framework' deal MORE (I-Vt.) as the standard-bearer of the left — a development that would fundamentally reshape the race.

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Warren was the clear winner of the first night of debates in Miami late last month, even though her performance was overshadowed by a more controversial clash the following evening. 

She continues to blast out policy proposals at a rate that outpaces her rivals. On Friday, she outlined a plan to boost pay for non-white women. 

Warren is making serious efforts to court black support, an effort that suggests she hopes to create a coalition broadly similar to the one that propelled then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day RNC targets McAuliffe, Biden campaign event with mobile billboard The real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit MORE (D-Ill.) to victory in 2008.

Warren, whom critics paint as a stiff, professorial figure, has proven a far warmer and spontaneous figure on the campaign trail than that caricature would suggest. She has posed for about 35,000 selfies in the last six months, according to her campaign.

The race is close, and a solid case could be made for having former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE or Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRNC targets McAuliffe, Biden campaign event with mobile billboard Obama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech MORE (D-Calif.) at the top of this list. 

Warren is third in national polling averages, behind Biden and Sanders. And Harris had an even better night at the Miami debates. 

But like a runner who sits comfortably at the shoulder of the leaders, Warren is perfectly positioned at this stage of the race.

Previous ranking, May 28: 3

2. Former Vice President Joe Biden

Biden can’t credibly be placed lower than second, given that he is the leader in national polls and that his fundraising prowess is prodigious. He raised $21.5 million in the second quarter.

But Biden has problems.

His subpar performance at the first debate hurt him in lots of ways. 

It eroded his support among black voters at a stroke. It raised grave questions about whether he would, after all, be the strongest candidate against President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE — the central rationale of his candidacy. And it also stoked concerns on the sensitive issue of his age. Biden is 76.

The former vice president took a long time to clean up the mess, as well. In a CNN interview broadcast Friday, he said he “wasn’t prepared” for Harris to attack him as aggressively as she did. Only on Saturday did he finally apologize for, in previous remarks, having given "the impression to people that I was praising" two deceased Southern segregationist senators.

There is an enormous amount of general goodwill toward Biden among Democrats. But will that translate to votes when the crunch comes? 

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 MORE, an ideologically similar figure, had much bigger polling leads than Biden does now in the early stages of both the 2008 and 2016 cycles — only to lose one battle to Obama and be pushed to the brink by Sanders in the other.

That’s one of many factors that augurs badly for Biden.

Previous ranking: 1

3. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris had the biggest moment of any candidate in the debate when she took on Biden over school busing in starkly personal terms. 

The exchange, replayed frequently on cable news and on social media, was rocket fuel for Harris’s poll standings. 

She vaulted to second place in two national polls in the immediate aftermath, rising 13 points in one, from Quinnipiac University, and 9 points in another, from CNN/SSRS. 

The debate has also boosted her profile and popularity with black voters, whose support will be vital if she is to prevail.

Harris’s performance in the debate was just the kind of breakout moment that she needed, after an initially vibrant campaign has begun to stagnate in the polls.

Still, the Californian does face questions.

Her new prominence invites investigation of her own record as California attorney general and as district attorney in San Francisco. 

This history includes elements that unsettle progressives, notably a harsh approach to truancy and a resistance to appointing independent investigators to look into shootings by the police.

Harris has also been unsteady on some elements of policy. Her own view of school busing is not entirely clear and she has given confusing answers on whether or not she favors the elimination of private health insurance.

Harris has a real shot. She also has some real weaknesses.

Previous ranking: 3

4. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sanders’s first run for the presidency, in 2016, far surpassed expectations. This time around, the expectations were much higher — and he has failed to meet them, so far.

Sanders has made the case that he was the first to espouse the kinds of views that have grown more popular among Democrats, particularly regarding income inequality and the imperative to make college more affordable. 

This is true. But it does not appear to be expanding his support.

In the RealClearPolitics (RCP) national polling average, he is stuck around 14 percent and has recently been pushed into third place by a surging Harris.

His partisans believe his message resonates and that he has real strength on the ground in early states, particularly Iowa.

Sanders has already won a moral victory — the Democratic Party has moved in his direction. 

Whether he can win an actual victory in the battle for the nomination seems a lot more questionable.

Previous ranking: 2

5. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats inch closer to legislative deal Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe MORE

Buttigieg, just 37 years old, was the media flavor of the month when he launched his campaign. 

He has parlayed that attention into startling fundraising strength — he raised $24.8 million during the second quarter, a bigger total than higher-polling candidates including Biden, Harris and Sanders. (Warren has not yet declared her second-quarter fundraising total.)

Buttigieg’s appeal is his youth, his articulacy and a sense that he can appeal to voters beyond the Democratic base.

But he has an obvious shortcoming, too: his support among black voters is strikingly low. That weakness has likely been exacerbated by the controversy that followed the recent police shooting of a black man, Eric Logan, in his home city.

Buttigieg has his niche but, unless his support among black voters ramps up, it is hard to see how he breaks out of it.

Previous ranking: 5

6. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

Castro had the best debate of any of the second-tier candidates, with his impassioned and knowledgeable responses on immigration propelling him to the fore.

Castro also very clearly got the better of his fellow Texan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) in exchanges on that topic.

It is very hard to see Castro making a serious charge for the nomination — he polls at under 2 percent in the RCP national average. 

But he is burnishing his reputation, and would make an attractive vice presidential choice.

Previous ranking: 9

7. Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerBlack Caucus pushes for priorities in final deal Cory Booker to campaign for McAuliffe in Virginia Senate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents MORE (D-N.J.)

Booker has always struggled to break out in such a large field, and that problem has not been resolved.

He had a solid performance in the debate, but was overshadowed by Harris. 

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He has been able to get media attention for some of his endeavors — last week he went to Mexico to meet people who were attempting to seek asylum in the United States — but that has not translated into significant support.

The bottom line is there is some “X factor” that Booker seems to lack. He has done nothing embarrassing during his campaign, but he just hasn’t caught fire either.

Previous ranking: 7

8. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

O’Rourke has been the single most disappointing candidate of this cycle so far.

A much-hyped launch fizzled, dogged from the start by O’Rourke’s ill-advised comment to Vanity Fair that he was “born” to run for the presidency. 

He has signally failed to create the kind of excitement that he sparked during a close race against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate confirms four Biden ambassadors after delay Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it MORE (R-Texas) last year.

An attempted reboot of the O’Rourke campaign has not worked. Debating has never been his strongest suit and he suffered when Castro accused him of not having done his “homework” on immigration in Miami.

O’Rourke’s campaign to date has been a slow fade. He needs something truly exceptional if he is to climb back into contention.

Previous ranking: 6

9. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharPaid family leave proposal at risk Top Arizona elections official says violent threats fueling worker turnover Infrastructure bill carves out boosts to first responders, wildland firefighters MORE (D-Minn.)

Klobuchar has a niche in the race — but the problem is that Biden already occupies it.

The Minnesota senator is overtly skeptical of the leftward tilt of the party, hesitant about the electoral appeal of proposals like the Green New Deal and "Medicare For All."

She acquitted herself capably at the debate, and had a particularly effective moment when she emphasized her commitment, and that of other female candidates, to the cause of reproductive rights.

It’s just not clear, however, that today’s Democratic electorate is buying what Klobuchar is selling.

Previous ranking: 8

10. Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe perfect Democratic running mate for DeSantis? Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition MORE (D-Hawaii)

Gabbard stoked curiosity during the debates, becoming the most googled candidate of the first night.

The Hawaii congresswoman, an Army veteran, is more vigorously critical of “regime change wars” and military adventuring in general than some of her rivals.

She is likely too idiosyncratic a figure to make it very far — not least because of her record of equivocating about Syrian President Bashar Assad — but she at least has made some kind of an impression.

Previous ranking: N/A

Other candidates:

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities Biden signs bill to help victims of 'Havana syndrome' Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE (D-Colo.), Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockIn Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Arkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association MORE (D), New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYPD union sues city over vaccine mandate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Hochul gets early boost as NY gubernatorial race takes shape MORE (D), 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 (D-Md.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPaid family leave proposal at risk Which proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? Proposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block MORE (D-N.Y.), former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Ohio GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE (D), Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeGOP official who challenged Trump election claims to get top DHS position DeSantis eyes ,000 bonus for unvaccinated police to relocate to Florida Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Boosters take a big step forward MORE (D), Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamKey moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Wayne Messam suspends Democratic presidential campaign 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum MORE (D), Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanRep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general Pennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Ohio Democrat calls Vance an 'ass----' over Baldwin tweet MORE (D-Ohio), former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMo Brooks says he would 'be proud' if staff helped organize Jan. 6 rally GOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game Greene heckles Democrats and they fire back on Capitol steps MORE (D-Calif.), author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson: Steven Donziger sentencing is meant to have a 'chilling effect' on environmentalists Marianne Williamson calls federal judge's handling of Steven Donziger case 'unconstitutional' Marianne Williamson calls on Biden to drop efforts to extradite Assange MORE, businessman Andrew YangAndrew YangBill Maher pushes back on criticism of Chappelle: 'What the f--- was that reaction?' Progressive economic theories run into some inconvenient truths Andrew Yang weighs in on Dave Chappelle: Artists should get 'wide berth' for self-expression MORE.