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 ObamaThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC Obama warns against 'unauthorized use' of his image to mislead voters in cease-and-desist letter MORE did it in 2008. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina To deter war with China, US must commit to defend Taiwan 6 ways the primary fight is toughening up Democrats for the fall general election MORE in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 also came from nowhere to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary 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 ClintonHillary Clinton to start new podcast Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs MORE.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll 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 WarrenBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll MORE for support from economic populists in the party. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSteyer releases African American policy ahead of South Carolina primary Biden leads by 18 points in South Carolina: poll Buttigieg notes diversity on debate stage: We're '7 white people talking about racial justice' 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 GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives 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 HarrisThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg campaign lobbied Yang for endorsement, possible VP offer: report Biden looks to shore up lead in SC 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'RourkeCNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Krystal Ball: Voters are coming to their own judgements about who is electable Warren campaign to host series of events in Texas 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 DelaneyNevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Lobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line MORE of Maryland, Julian Castro of Texas and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill California lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Chris Wallace: 'Just insane' Swalwell is talking impeaching Trump again 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 Trump 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.