Presenting the 2020 Democratic bracket

With Vice President Biden's entry this week, there are more than 20 Democratic presidential candidates. Only a handful will be serious contenders when Iowa and New Hampshire voters go to the polls early next year.

To sort out how it might evolve, a good model is the  college basketball tournament — divide aspirants into the following brackets or lanes with the underlying rationale for each:

The governing lane. As well as defeating Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE, it's also critical to elect someone with executive experience who can get things done.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Vice president, with eight years serving with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEmergency infrastructure needed to keep Americans safe: Public media Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Congress is to blame for the latest ruling on DACA MORE and an extensive background as a Senator, is the best credentialed and the heavy favorite in this bracket. If he falters, as the 76-year-old political veteran did in two previous presidential runs, possible beneficiaries might be Governors: former Colorado chief executive John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Colorado lawmaker warns of fire season becoming year-round The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden helps negotiate bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE or Washington state's Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE.

Others who could fill this void, if they got in, would be two successful mayors: Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans or New York's Michael Bloomberg. The hour probably is too late.

The left lane. Much of the energy in the party is on the left, their champion is Bernie SandersBernie SandersTo break the corporate tax logjam, tax overinflated CEO pay Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Grassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa MORE. The Vermont Senator runs strongly in the polls, along with Biden, well ahead of the pack at this early stage, and in grass roots fund-raising.

The prospect of the 77-year-old Socialist as the nominee, or even setting the agenda, terrifies mainstream Democrats.

The only alternative in a bracket that will make the Democrats' Final Four is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks MORE, a decidedly liberal capitalist. She has offered some thoughtful policy proposals, as well as a lurch or two to the fringe left, but so far just hasn't caught on. There’s still time; when it gets down to choosing time, there's not room for both her and Sanders.

The generational lane. With pervasive cynicism about the ways of Washington, it's time to move beyond the baby boomers, and there are three attractive alternatives: 46-year-old Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBeto O'Rourke, Willie Nelson financially back Texas Democrats in elections bill fight Texans split on whether Abbott deserves reelection: poll O'Rourke considering Texas governor bid: report MORE who dazzled Democrats around the country when he came close to right wing Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken MORE last fall; Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegJD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary The Hill's Morning Report - High-profile COVID-19 infections spark new worries MORE, the 37-year-old Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a former Rhodes scholar who was deployed as a Naval Intelligence officer in Afghanistan; and Massachusetts Congressman Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training Business, labor groups teaming in high-speed rail push Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE, a Harvard graduate and Marine who served four tours in Iraq.

ADVERTISEMENT

A year ago most of the chatter would have focused on Moulton, who made a big splash when he arrived in Congress and enlisted some of the young veterans who unseated Republican congressmen last November, but he took a hit with his clumsy effort in opposing Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE as Speaker, supporting instead an undistinguished Ohio Congresswoman, Marsha Fudge.

O'Rourke, only a month ago, generated much excitement among the rank and file, particularly young voters. That has given way to Buttigieg, seen as the “authentic Beto.” We'll soon see if the young mayor of a town of 102,000 can take the big league heat or if either of other two can restart.

The diversity lane. Barack Obama, still the most popular political figure in the country, broke the mold becoming the first African-American President; people of color are the party's base. There are three substantive candidates: California Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law 'CON laws' limit the health care competition Biden aims to deliver MORE, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, and former Housing Secretary Julian CastroJulian CastroCruz trolled on Twitter for slamming Democrats who fled Texas Julian Castro joins NBC and MSNBC as political analyst #AbbottHatesDogs trends after Texas governor vetoes bill expanding animal cruelty law MORE of Texas.

Booker so far hasn't lived up to his anticipated potential and is seeking to reignite his campaign. Harris has the most natural path to the nomination if she improves as a candidate with a more coherent message and avoids the sort of mistakes she has made.

It's exceedingly difficult to see a path for most others. Perhaps someone like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will have a moment as Howard Dean did in 2004. But it's hard to see how that's sustainable.

In the snows of January, as voting starts, there probably will be one, perhaps two (though that's remote), from these brackets. There won't be enough oxygen for the others.

This is a scenario with a caveat: Four years ago, on the Republican side, Donald Trump didn't fit into any conventional political lane.

He still doesn't.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.