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 Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint 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 SandersPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (I-Vt.) as the standard-bearer of the left — a development that would fundamentally reshape the race.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ObamaButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death Obama mourns 'heartbreaking' loss of Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant 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 BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE or Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? 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 John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir 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 ClintonGOP senator says idea that Ukraine interfered in US election is 'not a conspiracy theory' Cotton: Democrats are 'upset that their witnesses haven't said what they want them to say' Trump's troubles won't end with a Senate acquittal 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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Buttigieg on polarization: 'We don't have to choose between being bold and being unified' Buttigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 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 Anthony BookerSenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Black caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CruzTrump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments Impeachment trial to enter new phase with Trump defense Jordan says he thinks trial will be over by next week 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 Jean KlobucharPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint 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 GabbardYang qualifies for New Hampshire debate stage Poll: Bernie Sanders holds 9-point lead in New Hampshire The establishment scam of 'unity' 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 BennetBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (D-Colo.), Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBrent Budowsky: Bloomberg should give billion to Democrats Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE (D), New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge New York City bans cashless businesses How far will New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio go to protect undocumented aliens? MORE (D), former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Elizabeth Warren moves 'bigly' to out-trump Trump MORE (D-Md.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-N.Y.), former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperFor a healthy aging workforce policy, look to Colorado Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE (D), Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 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 MoultonOvernight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Congress reacts to US assassination of Iranian general Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanOffice of Technology Assessment: It's time for a second coming Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far GM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio MORE (D-Ohio), former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Swalwell pens op-ed comparing Trump impeachment to XYZ Affair MORE (D-Calif.), author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson says she supports Yang in Iowa caucuses Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Marianne Williamson drops out of 2020 race MORE, businessman Andrew YangAndrew YangButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to Trump tweet, Senate trial witnesses MORE.