Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020

Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020

If past presidential campaigns are prelude to the present, there's every reason to believe an unknown will emerge and win the Democratic presidential nod. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Forget conventional wisdom — Bernie Sanders is electable 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE did it in 2008. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe magic of majority rule in elections The return of Ken Starr Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 also came from nowhere to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Bernie Sanders vows to go to 'war with white nationalism and racism' as president Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' MORE didn't even think he had a chance to win when he entered the 2016 race, but he came within a whisker of taking the Democratic nod away from the prohibitive favorite, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate Progressive Democrats' turnout plans simply don't add up MORE.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the early favorites but early preference polls indicate that neither heavyweight contender has a lock on the hearts and minds of Democratic primary voters. Biden and Sanders were the only two Democrats in double digits in a CNN poll in early December. But they only had 30 percent and 14 percent of the vote respectively. 


Biden leads but only enjoys the support of a third of the Democratic primary electorate. Biden is very popular but many of the Democrats who admire him also think he's too much of an establishment figure at a time when voters have a visceral hatred of Washington, D.C.  But if Biden doesn't run, his absence would create a vacuum large enough for one of the dark horse candidates to fill.

Sanders follows Biden in the head-to-heads but there are signs the Vermont senator only carries some of the support he had in 2016 over into the 2020 contest. Sanders will also need to fight off Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE for support from economic populists in the party. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE, a staunch supporter of Sanders in 2016, may also join the Democratic race.

The results of a poll of Iowa Democrats conducted in December by the Des Moines Register illustrate the problems the two front runners face. Almost every Democrat (82 percent) said they like the former vice president but only a third (32 percent) say they would support him. Sanders' support in the poll (19 percent) was less than half of the support he enjoyed in the 2016 caucuses. 

So, who could be the rising star in the Democratic contest if the sun sets on the big two?

The victories of female Democratic candidates in 2018 Democratic congressional primaries tells me that the successful dark horse hopeful could be female. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand: Rosy economic outlook not 'reflected in everyday, kitchen-table issues families are facing' Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination MORE of New York summed it up when she tweeted earlier this month, "Women proved in 2018 that Democrats could win back the House powered by extraordinary female candidates and a women-led grassroots organization." 

Sens. Warren and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE of California have the edge among the potential female candidates. 

The senior senator from the Bay State has lots going for her. She speaks populist fluently and has the track record to back up the rhetoric. She has proved she can raise grassroots money and she is already staffed up in Iowa and many other key states. She has a base in New Hampshire, the first primary state. Warren could be a bridge between the warring wings of her party as a loyal Democrat with a proven anti-establishment track record.

Harris is about to officially throw her hat into the ring. Harris is one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate and she has a solid progressive voting record which will appeal to liberal Democratic primary voters. GovTrack rated her the eighth most liberal member of the U.S. Senate for 2017.  

The campaign calendar and Harris' proven ability to raise money gives her a big advantage since California has moved its primary up to Super Tuesday only 21 days after the New Hampshire primary and 29 days after the Iowa Caucuses. 

California voters will begin to cast absentee primary ballots the same day that Democrats caucus in Iowa. California sends 495 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. So, a big win in her home state could put Harris in the lead in early delegate commitments which would give her momentum over the other Democratic candidates. 

Beto or not to Beto? That's the question some Democrats looking for an alternative to Bernie and Biden are asking. Like Harris, Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession 2020 Democrats feel more emboldened to label Trump a racist Hillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation MORE can raise lots of dough early and Texas will share center stage with California on Super Tuesday. The Lone Star State's electoral votes will be in play in 2020 and a Texan on top of the ticket could be the price of admission to a Democratic victory there.

Then there's the O'Rourke Factor. Some Democrats are too wonky to appeal to independent voters, but the former Texas congressman has charisma to spare. Some analysts knock charisma, but you need the "it" factor to lead effectively. 


There are at least a dozen other worthy Democratic aspirants. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are governors including John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Steve Bullock of Montana and Jay Inslee of Washington. There are mayors in the form of Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles) and Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans). There are two successful business leaders, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. And shades of James Garfield, there are three candidates, John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members MORE of Maryland, Julian Castro of Texas and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHickenlooper ends presidential bid Scenes from Iowa State Fair: Surging Warren, Harris draw big crowds Nadler hits gas on impeachment MORE of California who hope to parlay their credentials as members of the House of Representatives into the White House.

Some of them may run because they believe they can win, have lots of money or want to prove their mettle enough to be in line for the vice-presidential nod or a cabinet post. Who knows? One of them might actually win the nomination. Stranger things have happened. After all, who ever thought Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat O'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms MORE would end up president?

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at, a social media network for politics.