It’s only 2017, but the Democratic field for the 2020 presidential election is slowly beginning to take shape. At the moment, the field is fairly shallow in terms of national name recognition, and only a handful of names carry a national donor pool, but there are many others just waiting to break into the top tier. For the moment, however, it’s the party of Bernie and Joe.
The Hill surveyed a large group of “Democratic insiders” to guage their sense of where the field was sitting and which candidates were rising to the top.
A year after a devastating 2016 defeat, Democrats are craving new faces with fresh ideas. Yet many of their leading contenders for the White House in 2020 are politicians who have been around for decades.
There’s also no clear standout in the potential field.
“You have a bunch of Celine Dions but there’s no Beatles,” said Phil Singer, a Democratic strategist who served as press secretary on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run.
The fortunes of potential candidates can change quickly. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), for example, was regarded just a few weeks ago as a potential dark horse candidate in 2020, but that changed instantly when sexual misconduct charges surfaced against him.
The Hill interviewed nearly a dozen prominent Democrats to find out who has captured the party’s attention in recent months and who has fallen out of favor.
Here are the top 3 names so far, with some background and reasoning for each selection:
1. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Advisers to the senator are telegraphing that Sanders is eyeing a 2020 run — and his network is already ready to go, with supporters convinced that he was the candidate who would have beaten President Trump in 2016.
“His people have never gone away,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “And he has a loyal core following out there that will be with him come hell or high water.”
Also working in Sanders’s favor, Bannon said, is the leftward shift of the Democratic Party.
“The Sanders wing is becoming the dominant wing of the party,” he said.
Still, strategists note that Sanders would be 79 in 2020, which could work against him at a time when Democrats are hungry for change.
2. Joe Biden
The former vice president’s book tour has kept him in the spotlight at a time when Democrats are nostalgic for the Obama years.
While playing it coy about his 2020 plans, Biden has consistently been talking about Democratic values and how the party can win back frustrated blue-collar workers who voted for Trump.
“He’s the perfect antidote to Trump,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). “And he has broad appeal in areas of the country we have to win.”
Added Singer: “He probably has the best voice at this stage of the game.”
With sexual harassment back in the headlines, however, Biden has faced new criticism recently for his treatment of Anita Hill, an attorney who accused her then-boss Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during hearings in 1991.
Hill told The Washington Post this week that Biden has yet to take “ownership” for how she was treated during the hearings; at the time, Biden was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. Biden apologized recently, but Hill said it wasn’t enough.
If he chooses to run, Biden will also have to contend with his age. He’ll turn 78 in 2020.
3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Many Democrats say women are having a moment — so why not nominate a woman who is wildly popular with the Democratic base?
Every strategist and political observer interviewed by The Hill mentioned Warren consistently as a top contender for 2020. Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons was one of them; he said the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations makes it more likely that a woman wins the 2020 nomination.
“I’m not sure a man can get nominated as the Democratic nominee right now,” Simmons said. “There are some who could and should, but the level of vetting on male candidates will be more intense than normal. Democrats should be looking for people to capture this energy that is out there right now and I think Elizabeth Warren belongs at the top of that list.”
Two things not in Warren’s favor: There’s no love lost for her in Obama World, and she’d be 71 by the time 2020 rolls around.
The age of these three averages to 73 years. That’s a fairly old number for the top candidates in the field. Yes, Donald Trump was 70 when he won the White House. But if you add two more years, the average age of these three kicks up to 75 years which means they would be pushing 80 by the time re-election came around. That’s not to seem ageist over the issue, and maybe 70 is the new 50 when it comes to presidential politics, but it also may create an age gap with younger Democratic voters. Then again, the college crowd seemed to lover Bernie over Hillary so perhaps age is less important than a candidate’s ability to connect.
Here’s the rest of the list as it stands:
4. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
5. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
6. Deval Patrick
Harris should probably swap places with Elizabeth Warren on that list. In fact, I just don’t see Warren going very far in 2020 despite her past popularity. There are plenty of others to take on the progressive mantle and she’d be competing with Bernie for that lane as well, and he already has a wide national donor base and name recognition far beyond hers.
Sherrod Brown and Deval Patrick are probably mere placeholders in this list.
Can we be so lucky to watch Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders go at each other on the debate stage for a few months? That would be be some entertaining political television.