Democrats will have no end of choices for president in 2020
There are fresh faces and old hands. Billionaires and at least one person still paying off student loans. A skateboarder, a brewery founder and a coffee magnate are all taking a look.
Dozens of Democrats are thinking about running for president in 2020.
The result could be a divisive, messy set of primaries, but many Democrats are exhilarated by the prospect of a wide range of choices, mirroring the congressional races in 2018.
“If there’s one thing we learned over the last two years, it’s that primaries are a good thing,” said Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something, a group established after President Trump’s election in 2016 to recruit and train young progressives to run for office. “They make our party stronger.”
In sorting through their choices between young and old, liberal and more centrist, white men and women and people of color, Democrats will be deciding not only who they want as a nominee, but what kind of party they want to be now that the Clintons’ quartercentury political dynasty is essentially over.
The earliest candidates to announce underscored the unparalleled diversity of the emerging field. A woman, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, was the first major national figure to set up an exploratory committee. A Latino, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, announced his candidacy Saturday. A black woman, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is on a book tour that will likely be followed by an announcement later this month.
But three white men’s decisions about whether to run could have outsized effect on the 2020 field: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas all have the rest of the field watching for their decisions.
If Biden runs, he becomes an instant frontrunner on the strength of his experience and vast political network. His entry would also guarantee that a central question of the primary will be a generational one, as younger rivals will argue that it is time for the older guard to pass the baton.
That generational split will widen further if the 46-year-old O’Rourke jumps in. He became a national sensation in his failed 2018 Texas Senate campaign, with viral Facebook livestreams of him skateboarding, driving and cooking dinner.
O’Rourke is not the youngest hopeful: California Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., one of the youngest at 38, still owes about $100,000 on his student loans.
If Sanders decides to run, his will be a big presence in the lane of leftleaning candidates, one that would likely crowd ideological allies such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who announced her candidacy Friday, and Oregon Sen Jeff Merkley if he runs.
With about three dozen Democrats either in the race or saying they are considering it, 2020’s Democratic primary field could rival the GOP’s sprawling 17-candidate field in 2016. It could break the Democratic record set in 1976, when 13 candidates ran serious bids for the nomination, according to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, who sees some parallels to today’s situation.
Democrats that year were riding high after their 1974 post-Watergate landslide, and the power of party bosses had been weakened.
“With no one influential enough to say ‘no,’ anyone with presidential ambitions said ‘yes,’” said Sabato. Now, the role in the nominating process for party leaders and so-called superdelegates has been diluted, and ambitious Democrats have been emboldened by their success in the 2018 midterm elections.
THE OLDER GENERATION
Biden, 76, and Sanders, 77, ride atop many polls – thanks largely to name recognition – and already have strong national political organizations in place. One obstacle they face, however, will be the clamor from some Democrats for a changing of the generational guard after a midterm election that reinforced the importance of young people to the Democratic Party coalition. According to exit polls, 67 percent of 18to-29-year-olds voted for Democrats in House races in 2018.
“We are in the process of turning our party over to the next generation,” said Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chair who ran for president in 2004. “I want a candidate under 50 or 55.”
Warren and Gabbard are the first to step into what could be a crowded lane of women candidates, including Sens. Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Coming on the heels of the 2018 midterms, when a record number of women ran for office and were elected to Congress, women’s advocates hope 2020 could see another election with a woman at the top of the ticket.
But some Democrats are gun-shy about a female candidate after Hillary Clinton failed in her bid to become the first woman in the White House. Some worry about the sexism that lingers in the political arena.
PEOPLE OF COLOR
A decade after the country elected its first black president, Democrats will probably have more than one candidate of color to consider. In addition to Castro, two black senators, Harris and Cory Booker of New Jersey, are almost certain to jump into the race. Also weighing a bid is Eric H. Holder Jr., who was the nation’s first black U.S. attorney general, under Obama.
In a recent interview on “The View,” Harris said she feels the United States is “absolutely” ready for a woman of color to be president.
Media billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, who invested heavily in Democratic candidates in the midterm election, is considering a presidential bid, as is former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz. Both have the advantage of boundless personal resources and status as political outsiders.
But super-wealthy business people don’t fit easily into a party dominated by liberals in a populist mood. In her inaugural swing through Iowa, Warren derided billionaire candidates.
One such hopeful, Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager from San Francisco, has already ruled out a presidential bid.
Julian Castro, center, greets supporters Saturday during an event where he announced his decision to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.