Whether you consider the beginning of the U.S. presidential campaign the date of the first campaign launch, the Iowa caucuses or the first candidates debate, it is a staggeringly long process.
Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro have already announced presidential exploratory committees, and Warren made a series of well-attended appearances last week in Iowa, the site of the first primary votes (on Feb. 3) in the 2020 contest. Some lesser-known politicians have fully declared their (improbable) bids for president, including former U.S. congressman John Delaney from Maryland and West Virginia state senator Richard Ojeda.
The Democrat field could be comparable in size to the 17 candidates who vied for the Republican nomination in 2016. With such a potentially large group, a number of themes and divisions are likely to emerge among Democrat hopefuls: centrist versus left-leaning, D.C. insiders versus outsiders, youth versus experience.
Here’s some background on the potential contenders.
(Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)
Biden has a compelling story of overcoming personal loss, and brings tons of experience to bear — he was a senator for more than three decades and was a two-term vice-president under Barack Obama. Biden lives in Delaware, but was raised in Scranton, Penn., and his working-class charm could help swing much-needed Pennsylvania back to the Democrat column. On the other hand, he has been prone to verbal gaffes, and ran two unsuccessful presidential campaigns (1988, 2008).
Pub trivia: Biden would be days shy of 76 on election day. If he won, it would make him by far the oldest president to take office.
(Eric Gay/Associated Press)
Castrohas formed an exploratory committee and all signs point to him announcing a run for the presidency at an event on Jan. 12. Despite being just 44, he possesses nearly two decades of political experience — as San Antonio councillor and then mayor, and then as Barack Obama’s housing secretary. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Castro is vying to become the first Latino-American president.
Pub trivia: Are you ready for a president with an identical twin? Castro’s brother Joaquin is a U.S. congressman representing Texas’s 20th district — and the spitting image of his sibling.
From appearances as a personal finance expert on Dr. Phil beginning in 2003 to her subsequent U.S. Senate career, Warren’s emphasis on pocketbook issues and consumer protections could resonate with voters tired of so-called identity politics. Warren and Trump have traded verbal jabs – she has attacked him for being a “wannabe tyrant” overseeing a corrupt administration, while he’s mocked her claims to Indigenous ancestry. Warren’s profile as a northeastern liberal might, on the surface, seem a challenge in winning over voters in the U.S. heartland, but Warren could play up the fact she was raised in a churchgoing Methodist family in Oklahoma.
Pub trivia: Warren, married to her current husband (Bruce Mann) since 1980, retains the surname of a previous spouse.
(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
The self-described democratic socialist won over 20 states and territories during the 2016 Democratic primaries, which is why he can’t be overlooked. But it’s questionable whether Sanders would do as well in a crowded field as in a race when he was the only serious threat — sorry, Martin O’Malley — to a very establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton. As well, Sanders turns 78 this year, which would make him 87 and change by the end of a two-term presidency.
Pub trivia: In addition to his Jewish heritage, a Sanders presidency would be noteworthy because he is an independent (although he caucuses with the Democrats).
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
Harris would be making an Obama-like play if she runs for president, as she is only midway through her first term as a U.S. senator. If anything, she has more impressive bona fides than Obama did when he ran for president. Harris was California’s attorney general, worked as San Francisco’s district attorney and has been on more prestigious Senate committees (Intelligence, Justice, Homeland Security) than Obama was during his Senate career.
Pub trivia: Harris spent part of her teens in Montreal, attending Westmount High, while her mother worked at McGill University.
The former congressman took many by surprise last year with a charismatic, competitive campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas (which he lost to Ted Cruz). Many Democrats have been high on O’Rourke’s presidential chances, pointing to his ability to attract donors large and small, and the fact that he did so well in a state that leans further right than the rest of the country. As a former El Paso city councillor, O’Rourke understands the centrality of issues regarding immigration and the southern border in national politics.
Pub trivia: His actual name is Robert O’Rourke, and he was the bass player in a little-known punk band called Foss.
(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)
If you believe the way to defeat a septuagenarian New York billionaire (i.e. Trump) is by nominating a different septuagenarian New York billionaire, then Bloomberg could be the ticket. The similarities between the two men mostly end there. Bloomberg has previous governing experience, as New York City mayor. Conservatives would likely try to tar him with the “big government” tag for his regulatory efforts on issues ranging from gun control to soda consumption.
Pub trivia: Like Sanders, Bloomberg would be the first Jewish-American president.
(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
The New Jersey senator is a Rhodes scholar and a Yale Law grad. Booker has been garnering national attention since his efforts as mayor of Newark (2006-2013) to bring back economic opportunity and reduce violent crime. Since reaching the U.S. Senate in 2013, Booker has served on a range of committees, and courted controversy last year by releasing emails that Republicans wanted to remain confidential during the bitter partisan battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Pub trivia: Likely would be the first vegan president, and could be the first in a century to arrive at the White House without a spouse.
(John Minchillo/Associated Press)
Like Biden, Brown possesses an everyman appeal that could help deliver a much-needed state to Democrats in the electoral calculus in 2020, with an emphasis on pocketbook issues such as Obamacare, benefits for seniors and student loans. Brown has been a fixture in Ohio politics at the state and national levels since the mid-1970s. Brown is not flashy, and admits it was never his dream to run for president, which could be appealing after the ambitious Obama and the bombastic Trump.
Pub trivia: Brown drew attention to the high price of prescription drugs in the U.S. in the early 2000s by organizing trips for Ohio seniors to go to Ontario so they could get their medications at a lower cost.
(Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)
Gillibrand has a high profile owing to a decade of experience on Capitol Hill. She has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights and has taken the #MeToo mantle as much as any D.C. politician. Gillibrand pushed for the removal of influential Democratic senator Al Franken before a Senate ethics committee probe addressed sexual misconduct allegations against him. This made her unpopular among some Democrats. Gillibrand also said Bill Clinton should have resigned as president over his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky — a fascinating fact given that Hillary Clinton wrote the foreword to Gillibrand’s 2014 book, Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless, and Change Your World.
Pub trivia: If elected to the highest office, Gillibrand would be the second straight president with a spouse born outside of the U.S. (her husband was born and raised in Britain).
(Elaine Thompson/Canadian Press/AP)
Inslee has been governor of Washington since 2013, but also has D.C. experience, with multiple terms as a congressman representing the Evergreen State in the 1990s. He raised his national profile during a White House meeting on school shootings last year when he told Trump directly, “we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening” to teachers. According to a recent profile in the Atlantic Monthly, Inslee intends to make climate change a significant theme of his candidacy.
Pub trivia: There has never been a president from the state of Washington.
Definitely not running
- Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
- Michael Avenatti, the ever-present attorney for Stormy Daniels.
- Tom Steyer, billionaire businessman who’s funded a bid to have Trump impeached.
And the burning question: What about Hillary?
(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
Reports emerged in recent days that Hillary Clinton is meeting with prospective candidates, presumably to get a sense of who to endorse down the line. But Clinton — who received more votes in the 2016 presidential election than any candidate in history not named Obama — hasn’t officially said that she herself won’t be running in 2020.
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