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Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide

Deval PatrickDeval PatrickBiden faces pressure to take action on racial justice issues Biden selects Susan Rice to lead Domestic Policy Council, McDonough for Veterans Affairs Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment MORE’s eleventh-hour decision to jump into the Democratic presidential primary — and a looming entrance from Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden selects Gina Raimondo for Commerce chief: reports 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics NFL, politics dominate 2020 ratings MORE — has rankled progressives and rank-and-file Democrats alike, who say it underscores a major disconnect between party elites and the political reality on the ground.

While the race for the nomination remains fluid and no candidate has managed to pull away from the rest of the pack, recent polls have shown that most Democrats were already content with their slate of candidates before the former Massachusetts governor launched his campaign on Thursday.

Patrick and Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, had both flirted with possible 2020 presidential runs, but ultimately punted on launching campaigns last winter.

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But their White House ambitions took on new life in recent days at the urging of some Democratic leaders, who have grown anxious about the party’s chances of defeating President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE.

The hand-wringing by party elites has drawn the ire of Democratic strategists and operatives, especially those aligned with the party’s progressive wing who argue that the energy in the primary contest has so far been driven by a liberal base of voters and activists eager to buck the Democratic establishment.

Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and national surrogate for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal Former Sanders spokesperson: Progressives 'shouldn't lose sight' of struggling Americans during pandemic MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said that Patrick’s candidacy and Bloomberg’s pending entrance underscore an effort by the party’s wealthy donor class to fight back against the progressive policy proposals that have taken center stage in the race.

“The elites in the donor class are insulated from the energy and the commitment that’s happening at the grassroots level,” Tasini said. “What they’re really expressing, perhaps subconsciously, is their class bias. They don’t want to have fundamental transformation. Their goal is getting rid of Trump and making some adjustments around the edges.”

For now, allies of Sanders and Warren see Patrick and Bloomberg as potentially useful foils for the field’s leading progressives.

Both men see themselves as able to appeal to the Democratic party’s moderate wing, and their backgrounds in business — Bloomberg is among the wealthiest men in America and Patrick has served as a managing director at Bain Capital since leaving the governor’s mansion in 2015 — are seen as prime targets for progressives, who have called for more aggressive regulation and taxation of wealth and the financial services sector.

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“The calling card of being from Bain is really strong in the progressive movement right now,” Tasini said sarcastically of Deval.

Party insiders, however, are skeptical that a candidate as progressive as Sanders or Warren can beat Trump in a general election, pointing to polling that shows Democratic voters, especially those in battleground states, would prefer to nominate a more moderate candidate.

At the same time, some have become concerned that the leading moderates in the primary race, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Buttigieg confirmation hearing slated for Thursday James Murdoch predicts 'a reckoning' for media after Capitol riot MORE, are not as viable as once thought.

Biden, whose candidacy was initially seen by Bloomberg as an insurmountable barrier to the nomination, has lagged behind his top rivals in fundraising, stirring doubts among party leaders in his ability to fund a long and arduous national campaign.

There’s also concern among some Democratic insiders that, despite his recent rise in early state polls, Buttigieg will not be able to broaden his support among non-white voters, who are seen as vital to securing not only the presidential nomination but the White House.

Part of what may be driving the anxiety among party leaders is the absence of a clear front-runner in the race, Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

Recent polls show four candidates — Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg — knotted at the top of the primary field. And in early states like Iowa many Democrats concede that they could end up supporting a candidate other than their current favorite.

But Murray said the lack of a clear front-runner in the nominating contest isn’t due to Democratic dissatisfaction with the current roster of candidates. Instead, he added, many voters “have been complaining about the large size of the field since the summer.”

“They’ve got everything they want, and the options are there,” Murray said. “It’s just that they haven’t come together on one or two candidates as their front-runners, and it’s unlikely that Bloomberg and Patrick are going to suddenly make voters across all these demographic groups drop who they’re supporting now.”

A Monmouth University poll released this month before Patrick entered the race showed 74 percent of Democratic voters were satisfied with the current slate of candidates. Only 16 percent of respondents, most of them moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats, said they would like to see someone else jump into the contest.

Murray said the perception that there’s still an opening in the primary field that Patrick or Bloomberg could occupy has been driven more by the Democratic donor class and other party insiders than by legitimate concern among voters.

“The donor class, the elites, the pundits represent an infinitesimally small portion of the Democratic electorate,” Murray said. “And that’s who these folks talk to.”

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It’s not unusual for party elites to be anxious, if not pessimistic, about their chances heading into a presidential election, especially when their eventual nominee will have to face off against a Republican incumbent.

In 2004, for instance, some Democrats scrambled to recruit retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark into the Democratic contest, concerned about the viability of the field’s top-tier candidates, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and John KerryJohn KerryBiden's trade policy needs effective commercial diplomacy Biden taps ex-Obama aide Anita Dunn as senior adviser The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE, the former Massachusetts senator who eventually became the party’s nominee.

“Democrats are proverbial bed-wetters and we also want to fall in love,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state lawmaker and top surrogate for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Biden scolds Republicans for not wearing masks during Capitol attack Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE’s (D-Calif.) presidential campaign. “And there are people out there who are waiting for that love bug to bite them.”

“Some of us are more practical and just want to beat Donald Trump, and we’re going to make it work however it works,” he added.

To be sure, Patrick’s path to the Democratic nomination is a narrow one. Most of his rivals have been building their campaign operations in the early primary and caucus states for months.

While he remains well known in Massachusetts, he lacks the national name recognition held by many of his rivals. And while other candidates who entered the race as virtual unknowns like former tech executive Andrew YangAndrew YangAndrew Yang sparks Twitter uproar with pro-bodega video Yang announces run for New York City mayor Yang files to open campaign account for NYC mayor MORE have risen in the polls, it took them months to introduce themselves to the public — time that Patrick doesn’t have.

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Bloomberg has not made a final decision on whether to enter the primary race, though he has taken steps to get on the ballot in states like Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

If he decides to run, his advisers say he will not compete in the first four primary and caucuses, and will instead campaign in states that on Super Tuesday, an unorthodox strategy reminiscent of former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiWhat our kids should know after the Capitol Hill riot  How to stop Trump's secret pardons Trump tells aides not to pay Giuliani's legal fees: report MORE’s ill-fated 2008 presidential bid.

“I think that both of them have extremely narrow paths,” Sellers said. “I know that Deval Patrick is uber-talented and that’s going to add something to the field. But it is extremely late — it’s 80 days out from Iowa.”

Murray, the Monmouth Polling Institute director, said that by entering the primary contest so late in the year, both men risk being “seen as someone who hasn’t put in the work” necessary to win over voters.

“Someone getting into the race late is going to be seen as someone who hasn’t put in the work,” Murray said. “Voters reward candidates that have put in the work.”