Analyzing the 2020 Field

About two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic Presidential bid. Reports are coming out that Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke will be announcing their candidacies in the next couple weeks. That means that more or less all the major players will be on the field. Which means it’s time to analyze the leading candidates and their chances of going forward.

As with any predictions this far out, it’s like trying to shoot a mouse in the dark. At this time in 2015, Donald Trump was in the back of the field and appearing on Alex Jones. But analyzing the energy surrounding each candidate, early polling, their notoriety, and their reputations, we can begin to look forward with some small degree of clarity.

There are seven candidates that are have an actual chance of going somewhere. They are, in order of how they are currently polling:

  1. Former Vice President Joe Biden
  2. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
  3. California Senator Kamala Harris
  4. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  5. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker
  6. Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke
  7. Minnesota Senator Amy Kloubachar.

Let’s break each of these candidates down:

Biden right now leads with around 30% in the polling. He benefits from name recognition, experience, and a general feeling he embodies the old days, before Trump was the right and socialists were the left. But I am extremely skeptical of Biden’s chances at winning this thing. He’s old (he’ll be 78 in 2020), his history as a Senator in the 1990s runs counter to current Democrat orthodox (see the Clinton Crime Bill), and his attempts in 1988 and 2008 fell apart nowhere. This isn’t Biden’s moment, and he’s more likely to end up this cycle’s Jeb Bush than the ascendant hero for his party.

Bernie just announced, and he’s been between 20 and 25% on the polling thus far. He has the name recognition, a strong fundraising network, and an army of Bernie Bros at his disposal. He also polls well in early states and could generate momentum there. The question with Bernie is how loyal the Berniecrats will be this go around. It’s not him vs. Hillary anymore. He no longer has a monopoly on progressive policies. If he wants to win, he’ll need to retain most of his support from 2016. I’m not sure he can do that in a field this crowded.

Kamala Harris is polling around 10%, but she’s probably the most likely candidate to win the nomination. She’s a black woman, she’s not 100,000 years old like Bernie or Biden, and her program is right on the pulse of the party. Her one drawback is that we don’t know how resilient she is. She has never really ran in a competitive election, and her past has never been called into question. She could end up this cycle’s Marco Rubio – a potentially exciting candidate, but overmatched on the Presidential stage.

Elizabeth Warren is probably dead on arrival. This is kind of a shame, because Elizabeth Warren is actually an intelligent person who understands policy, even if I disagree with most of it. Her problem is she’s a terrible politician. Whenever she tries to channel the left’s rage, it’s painful to watch. Her unfavourability ratings are really high and each day the chances of her winning the nomination seem to weaken. She isn’t going to win the moderates, she’s isn’t going to win the social justice crowd, and with Bernie in the race, her chances of winning the socialist vote are slim. There just isn’t enough left wing policy wonks to win her a nomination.

Cory Booker is polling just over 5%, right around Beto. I have no idea how. Cory Booker is one of the most comical politicians in Washington, exemplified when he deliberately tried to get expelled from the Senate by “releasing” documents about Brett Kavanaugh that were already released and revealed nothing. He declared it his “Spartacus moment.” The only thing that sets Booker apart is the fact he’s a vegan and played football at Stanford 30 years ago. He might be the most vacuous candidate in this race, and he’s going nowhere.

Beto O’Rourke is the boom or bust candidate of this campaign. He’s either going to be humiliated and fade into obscurity in March, or he’s going to ride his skateboard into the Oval Office. We know from his run against Ted Cruz he’s likeable and capable of raising a lot of money, he has a chance of flipping Texas in a general, and his record in the House would make him one of the most moderate candidates in the race. The drawback is that Beto is pretty clearly out of his depth. He has no experience beyond a few unspectacular terms in the House. Since his loss to Ted Cruz last November, he’s been driving around the country blogging and Instagram living his trips to the dentist. His answer to questions around the Border Wall and the Constitution seem more like sentiments than well considered policy. Whether he’ll be able to handle a grueling primary season remains to be seen.

Amy Kloubachar is at the bottom of this list, polling just over 3 percent. But she’s trending in the right direction, she’s a woman from the Midwest, she runs in front of her party in her home state, and her public face is temperately moderate (she was one of the few Democrats who didn’t make a complete fool of herself during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings). She also apparently has a vicious side, which could come in handy both in primaries and the general. There might not a way forward for her in a field this crowded, but if Beto never gets off the ground, Biden implodes, and Kloubachar becomes the leading moderate, there’s a chance for her to rally to the nomination.

Hanging on the outside of this group are another five candidates

  1. Former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg
  2. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
  3. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard
  4. Former HUD secretary Julian Castro
  5. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Out of this lot, the only person with a chance of going anywhere is Tulsi. She’s a young woman of color, she’s a veteran, she’s said to be impressive on a debate stage, and her messaging is intriguing. She’s the type of candidate the Democrats are looking for. She also has the benefit of relative obscurity, so she has a high ceiling. I wouldn’t be surprised if she picks up some speed towards the end of this year and leaps up into the first list.

As for the rest of this list, none of the other four impress me. At all. A billionaire white guy like Bloomberg? Boring. Kirsten Gillibrand is intensely unlikeable and despite a fair amount of media attention, she hasn’t gone anywhere. Her campaign is likely dead on arrival. As for Sherrod Brown, I fail to see why he would be an appealing candidate. And I have legitimately no clue who Julian Castro is.

After these 12, you have an assortment of mayors, representatives, and governors no one cares about. These guy’s chances aren’t worth the space they’ll take up on a debate stage. I’m looking at you Terry McAuliffe, Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney and company. Just quit now and save journalists the trouble of having to cover your campaigns.

In conclusion, my predictions on likelihood of being the 2020 Democrat nominee to face Donald Trump are

  1. Kamala Harris
  2. Bernie Sanders
  3. Beto O’Rourke
  4. Joe Biden
  5. Elizabeth Warren
  6. Amy Klobuchar
  7. Cory Booker
  8. Tulsi Gabbard
  9. Sherrod Brown
  10. Julian Castro
  11. Kirsten Gillibrand
  12. Michael Bloomberg
  13. Everyone Else

Agree with my conclusions? Who am I underselling (or overselling)? I’m sure I’ll analyze the 2020 race through a political lense in the coming weeks. But 2020 is going to be a blast.


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