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 ObamaBarack Obama wishes Michelle a happy birthday: 'You’re one of a kind' NY Times prints special section featuring women of the 116th Congress Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles MORE did it in 2008. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton5 myths about William Barr Dems should follow Bill Clinton's lead on minimum wage hike Feehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts MORE in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 also came from nowhere to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWomen's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC Group aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated 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 ClintonDershowitz to The Atlantic: Do not violate Constitution to safeguard it Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated GOP Rep. Tom Marino resigns from Congress MORE.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenLosing the fight against corruption and narco-trafficking in Guatemala Group aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated 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. 

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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 WarrenOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Group aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story MORE for support from economic populists in the party. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard apologizes for past LGBT remarks in new video Howard Dean to CNN: All Dem candidates qualified to be president except Tulsi Gabbard Openly gay lawmaker defends Gabbard over past LGBT comments 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 GillibrandGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story Gillibrand to attend Women's March Iowa after announcing 2020 bid 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 HarrisOcasio-Cortez's first House floor speech becomes C-SPAN's most-viewed Twitter video Kamala Harris says her New Year's resolution is to 'cook more' Harris to oppose Trump's attorney general nominee 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'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeEx-Michelle Obama aide says O'Rourke's road trip is a 'listening tour' in form of a travel blog Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim 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. 

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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 DelaneyMoulton to visit New Hampshire amid 2020 speculation Delaney pledges sole focus on 'bipartisan proposals' in first 100 days of presidency Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 MORE of Maryland, Julian Castro of Texas and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 Swalwell: Trump will be impeached by Congress or by ballot box The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump invites leaders to White House | Trump hits back at Romney op-ed | Fights we're watching in the new year 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 TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees 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 MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.