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 John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE, it's also critical to elect someone with executive experience who can get things done.


The Vice president, with eight years serving with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina National Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo 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 HickenlooperMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 George Conway group releases ad targeting GOP senator: 'You're just another Trump servant' MORE or Washington state's Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 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 SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden 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 Ann WarrenTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Biden, Sanders tax plans would raise less revenue than claimed: studies 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'RourkeBiden calls for revoking key online legal protection Trump mocks Booker over suspended presidential campaign Julián Castro endorses Warren in 2020 race MORE who dazzled Democrats around the country when he came close to right wing Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhat to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE last fall; Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Overnight Defense: Trump downplays troops' concussion injuries in Iran attack | Dems offer case against Trump on day two of trial | UN links Saudis to hack of Bezos' phone 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: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Congress reacts to US assassination of Iranian general Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE, a Harvard graduate and Marine who served four tours in Iraq.


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 PelosiSekulow indicates White House not interested in motion to dismiss impeachment articles Overnight Health Care: Trump restores funding for Texas program that bars Planned Parenthood | Trump to attend March for Life | PhRMA spent record on 2019 lobbying Key House committee chairman to meet with Mnuchin on infrastructure next week 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 Devi HarrisCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Steyer spokesperson: 'I don't think necessarily that Tom has bought anything' Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor MORE, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, and former Housing Secretary Julian CastroJulian CastroJayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Biden says he would consider Castro, O'Rourke for VP, Cabinet positions 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.