With Joe Biden’s entry into the race, that makes 20. Twenty declared candidates for the Democratic nomination for President. What’s likely to happen over the next 18 months (552 days to be precise) is that there will be a “flavor of the month” (just as there was for the Republicans in both 2012* and 2016), and right now the flavor of the month is clearly Pete Buttigieg. (And yes, I’ve learned how to pronounce his name).
*Anyone remember Rudy Guiliano’s front-runner status?
So with that in mind, let’s do some ultra-early handicapping of the 20 declared candidates:
- Joe Biden (D): Obama’s vice President and two-time previous Presidential candidate has the name recognition and the working-class bonafides to overcome Trump in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio (states without which Trump can’t get re-elected). That’s why the Trump campaign fears him the most. Joe comes with plenty of “#metoo” and other baggage, however, and he’s already 76 years old.
- Bernie Sanders (I): the Senator from Vermont — as most informed people know — isn’t even a Democrat. Lightning struck for him in 2016, but it won’t strike again in 2020, even though he has his hardcore “Bernie bros” followers and leads in the early fundraising. This is the candidate the Trump team wants to run against the most.
- Kamala Harris (D): my early dark horse and the candidate most likely to be the Vice-Presidential candidate, especially if Joe Biden is the nominee heading the ticket. The California senator is tough and charismatic, but she’d have to break that glass ceiling and follow Obama’s footsteps as the second bi-racial President**, so that’s a tall order for one person.
- Pete Buttigieg (D): today’s “flavor of the month,” Buttigieg, the Mayor of Sound Bend, IN, is certainly an intriguing guy. His status as a gay progressive Christian makes him a thorn in the side of Vice President Mike Pence, with whom he’s already feuding. As the mayor of a medium-sized city he clearly doesn’t have the experience to be President (although that didn’t seem to hurt Obama much). Let’s see if he has any staying power.
- Beto O’Rourke (D): the former Texas congressman was the darling of progressives in the 2018 Senatorial races for his almost-win against übervillain Ted Cruz, but almost wasn’t good enough. While that was a great effort and proved he could be attractive to moderates and independents, I believe that this “one hit wonder” will discover that it’s very difficult to chart a second time.
- Elizabeth Warren (D): the most substantive candidate in the race by far, the Senior Senator from Massachusetts and inheritor of both the Ted Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum legacies, is (for reasons that I’ve explained before) likely to suffer the same fate as Hillary Clinton, if she ends up being the nominee.
- Cory Booker (D): the New Jersey Senator and former Super-Mayor of Newark is plenty charismatic, but may find his lane blocked by Kamala Harris. His liberal voting record may also find him too far from the mainstream.
- Amy Klobuchar (D): the Minnesota Senator is a centrist pragmatist, but may find it hard to get noticed in this crowded field. There are also “character issue” questions arising from her apparently abusive treatment of her staff. (And no, this can’t just be swept under the rug on the basis of the allegation that it’s only come up because she’s a woman. It would also be an issue if she were a man.)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (D): the New York Senator and champion of the #metoo movement left some hard feelings among her colleagues by leading the charge to oust Al Franken from the Senate. In other years she might be a good candidate, but will probably find it hard to get traction in this crowded field. Her former anti-immigrant policies won’t help.
- John Hickenlooper (D): Colorado’s former Governor is the first of a number of “who’s that” candidates who will suffer from lack of name recognition. Hickenlooper’s strong record on gun control won’t be enough to win him many adherents.
- Jay Inslee (D): the next of the “who’s that” candidates, the current Governor of Washington state made an interesting entry into the race by making climate change and the Green New Deal his central issue. Hard to see, again, how he gets traction in this race.
- Julián Castro (D): the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio is the only Latino in the race. Low name recognition will hinder his candidacy, however, and being the only Latino won’t help him enough.
- Seth Moulton (D): the firebrand Congresssman from Massachusetts is mostly known for his attempts to oust Nancy Pelosi as speaker. His status as a former veteran will help his cause. However, many view his candidacy primarily as an audition for another top job.
- Tim Ryan (D): the nine-term Congressman from Ohio is a centrist whose central idea is a long-term industrial strategy to make the United States more competitive with countries like China. Currently his lane is being blocked by Joe Biden.
- Eric Swalwell (D), the California congressman, 38, is a member of House leadership and the House Intelligence Committee, and has centered his early efforts on gun control. Like fellow congressmen Seth Moulton and Tim Ryan, he could catch fire if things transpired in a certain way, but it’s not likely.
- Tulsi Gabbard (D): the Hawaii Congresswoman has the advantage of being an Iraq war vet and the first Hindu to serve in Congress. Other than that, there is no apparent reason for the 37-year old to be running, other than to raise her national profile.
- John Delaney (D): who’s that #3, the former Maryland Congressman “preaches a relentlessly bipartisan message of national unity,” according to certain media reports. Good luck with that. And with gaining any traction in this field.
- Mike Gravel (D): who’s that #4, the former U.S. senator from Alaska has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t intend to win the nomination but is interested only in “pushing the field left by appearing in the Democratic debates.” I think that lane is already occupied by Bernie Sanders.
- Wayne Messam (D): who’s that #5, the mayor of Miramar, Florida (a Miami suburb) has no reason for running other than to raise his national profile. His signature seems to be Puerto Rican statehood.
- Andrew Yang (D): a businessman who founded Venture for America, Yang isn’t qualified to be President. The 44-year-old is running on a platform of a universal basic income, to counteract the worst effects of automation in the workforce. That will make for an interesting contribution to the discussion, if he’s allowed to be heard.
- Marianne Williamson (D), the “A Course in Miracles” guru and Oprah Winfrey surrogate, is also not qualified to be President. But like Yang’s, hers could be a compelling voice added to the discussion.***
**Obama, like Harris, is bi-racial and not black, although most voters perceive both of them as black. Cory Booker, on the other hand, really is black.
***Williamson finished fourth in a congressional primary in California in 2014, so clearly doesn’t have much proven electoral pull.
So there you have the 20 candidates who have been declared. I haven’t dealt with “undeclared” potential candidates like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio or Stacy Abrams, the almost and really should-have-been Governor of Atlanta (but for a little vote rigging).****
Stacy Abrams, like Kamala Harris, might be an excellent choice as a running mate for some white guy at the top of the ticket.
****Abrams narrowly lost to Brian Kemp, who was Secretary of State (or in control of the elections process) during the election. Kemp refused to recuse himself from supervision of the election process during his own run for Governor.