Democratic 2020 Presidential Candidates Ranked – Rolling Stone
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The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard

Ranking a crowded field as 19 contenders jockey to confront Trump

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When we moved Elizabeth Warren into the No. 1 slot a couple of weeks ago, it was a tough call. But momentum has continued to swing in her favor. She has opened up a six-point lead over Joe Biden in a new poll of early voting states, with voters far more likely to see her as both fighting for them and able to parry President Donald Trump’s attacks.

The deeper one digs into polling, the rosier the situation looks for Warren. She’s the most broadly acceptable Democrat in the race. In a recent NBC poll, she counted 25 percent support each from party voters under 35 and over 65. This consistency across age demographics is rare among the 2020 candidates. In the same poll, Biden was only acceptable to 10 percent of those under 35 — and appealing to 46 percent of seniors. Bernie Sanders had the opposite problem with only 2 percent of seniors on his side, compared to 33 percent of young Democrats. 

Even Democrats who prefer someone else seem to like Warren. Her advantage in Iowa, for example, vaults to 12 percent if voters’ first and second choices are counted. Perhaps most important for future success, Warren has grown her support among black voters to nearly 20 percent, suggesting that her message of “structural change” is resonating outside of white, educated liberal circles.

Biden, meanwhile, finds himself pinned down at the center of an impeachment fight, created by Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who illicitly attempted to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on Biden and his son Hunter. Even giving Biden every benefit of the doubt that Trump’s smear campaign is baseless, this moment is offering voters a preview of the down-and-dirty general-election fight. Biden is playing adequate defense, but not showing much liveliness on the counter attack. 

Warren, by contrast, has looked both prescient and presidential in her strong early calls for impeachment — like a leader who knows where her party wants to be, and who is unafraid to call Trump out on his lawlessness.

There are other candidates in the race, of course. Below we rank the 19 Democrats still running for president.

RELATED: RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

1) Elizabeth Warren

The Massachusetts senator continues to outpace her competitors on policy, including calling to wipe out student debt for tens of millions of Americans. Warren is targeting Democrats who seek progressive purity from their 2020 champion, including in fundraising. Eschewing fundraisers with big contributors seeking political favors, Warren raised close to $25 million in the third quarter. But unlike Sanders, who embraces the mantle of democratic socialism, the 70-year-old Warren is a capitalist at heart, having spent a career trying to make the system work for working people. 
Signature Policy: Warren wants to address American inequality with a wealth tax, imposed annually on “ultra-millionaires,” to pay for benefits, including universal free or low-cost childcare, for “yacht-less Americans.” Fortunes greater than $50 million would be taxed at 2 percent. Billionaires would pay 3 percent. The proposal has greater than 60 percent support and would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years. (Read more about Warren’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Warren has apologized for conflating “family stories” about Cherokee heritage with native identity. At the Native American Presidential Forum in August, Warren underscored her regret. “Like anyone who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” she said. “I am sorry for the harm I have caused.”
RS Coverage: Elizabeth Warren Wants to Wipe Out Student Debt for 42 Million Americans

2) Joe Biden

The former vice president continues to offer America a seductive promise a reboot from the Trump catastrophe and a return to the Obama era. And rather than risk falling in love with a progressive New Hope, many rank-and-file Democrats, particularly older voters, seem happy to fall in line behind Biden, 76. At his Philadelphia kickoff rally in May, Biden touted his record as a Mr. Fixit: “I know how to make government work.” But his campaign needs some maintenance first. He raised $15 million in the third quarter, a steep falloff from his first haul of $21.5 million. Part of his trouble: nearly 40 percent of the donors from his opening quarter “maxed out” with large contributions, meaning they cannot give again during the primary season. In a sign of financial trouble, Biden entered the fourth quarter with less than $9 million cash on hand.
Signature Policy: Biden has peerless foreign policy credentials and isn’t afraid to tout them: “I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” he’s said. “I know as much about American foreign policy [as] anyone around, including even maybe Kissinger.” (Read more about Biden’s platform.)
Signature Apology: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden told reporters after being rebuked by multiple women for his space-invader style of politics. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. So that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sakes.”
RS Coverage: Joe Biden Is Not Helping

3) Bernie Sanders

Sanders remains a force thanks to a potent combination of people-power and cash. He raised more than $25 million in the third quarter. And the campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field. Sanders does not have the left lane to himself as he did in 2016 — many candidates have embraced his once-distinctive proposals. But he is seen as an uncompromising champion of Medicare for All, and he has one-upped Warren’s income-based college debt relief by calling for a complete wipeout of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt. Sanders’s recent heart attack could give voters pause about the 78-year-old’s staying power.
Signature Policy: Sanders’ 2016 campaign set the table for 2020. He gets full credit for mainstreaming a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college. Sanders recently introduced the “For the 99.8% Act” that would sharply increase the estate tax, including imposing a 77 percent tax on estates in excess of $1 billion, raising an estimated $315 billion over a decade. (Read more about Sanders’ platform.)
Signature Apology: Sanders apologized to former female staffers for a 2016 campaign marred by pay disparities and allegations of sexual harassment by male staffers, promising to “do better” moving forward.
RS Coverage: On the Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0

4) Kamala Harris

Harris showed fearlessness and precision in attacking Biden in Miami during the June debate. But her subsequent debates have been lackluster, and Harris has been sliding in recent polls, losing contact with the top tier and dropping into a virtual tie with Pete Buttigieg. Her money game, however, remains adequate: Harris raised nearly $12 million for the third quarter. The Californian stands astride the tectonic plates of the Democratic Party — an establishment politician who has adopted a platform responsive to the passion of grassroots, including a Green New Deal and marijuana legalization. Black women are the heart of the Democratic Party, and seeing themselves reflected in the Howard University-educated Harris (born to Jamaican and Tamil Indian parents) could boost her prospects.
Signature Policy: Harris has promised executive action to punish pay disparities. She would require companies to receive an “Equal Pay Certification” and fine one percent of corporate profits for every percent of wage gap that persists between male and female employees. (Read more about Harris’ platform.)
Signature Apology: Harris has accepted accountability for missteps as California’s attorney general: “The bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did.”
RS Coverage: Kamala Harris’ Moment

5) Pete Buttigieg

The 37-year-old mayor vaulted from dark horse to phenom in a matter of months, but he has plateaued. Plainspoken and steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits and prospective voters alike. He was featured in a photo shoot in Vogue, and (with his husband Chasten) scored the cover of Time. Is “Mayor Pete” a true contender? His fundraising is prodigious: Buttigieg raised more than $19 million in the third quarter. But his lack of resonance with black voters is holding him back. In recent polls he’s registered at zero percent support among African Americans in South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi, despite scoring in or near double digits with whites.
Signature Policy: “The electoral college needs to go.” (Read more about Buttigieg’s platform.)
Signature Apology: After news reports revealed that Buttigieg declared “all lives matter” in 2015, Mayor Pete distanced himself from the comment, insisting he “did not understand” at the time that the slogan was “being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”
RS Coverage: Is America Ready for Mayor Pete?; Pete Buttigieg’s Antiracist Education

6) Andrew Yang

The most unlikely grassroots sensation of 2020, Yang is a businessman who founded Venture for America, working to revitalize struggling urban centers by training and fostering entrepreneurs in cities like Detroit and New Orleans. Sure, he’s campaigning by gimmick — most recently creating a sweepstakes for backers to receive $1,000 a month, in a test run of his signature policy — but Yang has cultivated a following and is polling above many “serious” contenders. He’s also raising serious cash: $10 million in the latest quarter.
Signature Policy: The 44-year-old is running on a platform of universal basic income, to counteract the worst effects of automation in the workforce. Yang spoke at length to Rolling Stone about his “Freedom Dividend,” insisting: “You want to universalize it so it’s seen as a true right of citizenship.” (Read more about Yang’s platform.)
RS Coverage: “I Came From the Internet”: Inside Andrew Yang’s Wild Ride

7) Beto O’Rourke

The mass shooting in his home town of El Paso brought out the best in Beto. The former congressman has struggled to find his ideological “lane” in a crowded field. But in the aftermath of white-supremacist violence, Beto displayed emotional resonance, filling the void as the country’s griever-in-chief, while boldly implicating Trump’s racist rhetoric as a root cause of the violence. Flashing the political gifts that turned him into a national phenom in his 2018 bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, O’Rourke is now treading far off the beaten primary path, visiting sites affected by Trump’s racist policies, including the Mississippi town where hundreds of chicken-factory workers were rounded up during an ICE raid. “Wherever Donald Trump is terrorizing and terrifying communities,” he said, “I’m gonna be there.” O’Rourke has perked up in the polls, but he’s behind in the money race, raising just $4.5 million in the third quarter.
Signature Policy: O’Rourke has gone for broke on gun control, pledging mandatory buybacks of assault weapons, which he puts as: “Hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15.”  (Read more about O’Rourke’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Beto was arrested for drunk-driving at 26, which he’s called a “terrible mistake.”
RS Coverage: Beto O’Rourke Shares the Story of His Old Band, Foss — and a Single

8) Cory Booker

The former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker is running on a values-heavy message of love, unity, and “a revival of civic grace.” The 50-year-old had an excellent debate in Detroit, besting Biden in an exchange over mass incarceration and the 1994 crime bill Biden championed. Booker has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, and he’s changed the conversation around federal cannabis legalization with his proposed Marijuana Justice Act. “I get angry when I see people taking just one step — legalizing marijuana — without doing anything to address past harms,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. But his outward liberalism has been undercut at times by connections to Wall Street and Big Pharma. He’s raising enough money to stay in the hunt, including $6 million in the third quarter.
Signature Policy: Baby bonds. Booker would target the wealth gap in America by seeding “American Opportunity Accounts” for children that would allow kids from the poorest families to enter adulthood with a nest egg of up to $46,000 to invest in education, home ownership, or retirement. (Read more about Booker’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Booker has disavowed the tough-on-crime approach he championed in his early days as Newark mayor. In his book United, Booker credits his then-chief of staff for delivering a wake-up call on racial disparities in policing: “He told me that if I had so quickly forgotten my own life experiences, I had my head up my large black posterior region.”
RS Coverage: Why Cory Booker Cares So Much About Legal Weed

9) Amy Klobuchar

The Minnesota senator’s understated persona stands in contrast to Trump’s bluster and bravado, winning her plaudits from conservatives including Washington Post columnist George Will and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. In theory, Klobuchar should benefit from a near-home-field advantage in neighboring Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucus. But the latest poll has her bumping along at 4 percent support. 
Signature Policy: Known for a focus on reform of revolution, Klobuchar has emphasized her record of enacting practical laws that have reduced the backlog of rape kits and banned lead in toys. If Biden continues to decline, Klobuchar seems likely to corral some of his moderate-minded voters. (Read more about Klobuchar’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Klobuchar has been dogged by reports she abused and demeaned staff, including throwing a binder that “accidentally” hit a staffer. The senator has admitted she has pushed employees “too hard” at times and can be a “tough boss,” but added she just wants to hold her employees — and the country — to high standards.
RS Coverage: Amy Klobuchar on Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Road Ahead

10) Julián Castro

Castro’s stage presence and command of the issues across four debates have underscored why Hillary nearly picked him as her 2016 running mate. The only Latino contender in the field, Castro, 44, is also one of the youngest. His “People First” policy agenda earned high marks for offering a sweeping immigration plan that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; an education overhaul that would reinvest in public education from pre-K through college; and a $5 billion plan to “eliminate lead poisoning as a major public health threat.”
Signature Policy: Pre-K for USA, nationwide universal prekindergarten programs, are the centerpiece of his People First education plan. “Investing in early childhood education isn’t just the right thing to do on behalf of our children,” Castro says. “It’s an investment that we can’t afford not to make.” (Read more about Castro’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In 2016, Castro apologized for dissing Trump and talking up Clinton while on the job as HUD secretary, a violation of the Hatch Act. “When an error is made — even an inadvertent one — the error should be acknowledged,” Castro said. “I made one here.”
RS Coverage: Julian Castro Officially Enters the 2020 Presidential Race

11) Tom Steyer

The progressive billionaire best known for leading an impeachment crusade against President Trump threw his hat into the crowded 2020 ring on July 9th, promising to betray his class and wrest political power from America’s moneyed interests. Steyer has no shortage of cash to help overcome his late start, spending nearly $48 million on his national introduction. 
Signature Policy: Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign has signed up more than 8 million Americans seeking Trump’s constitutional removal. (This list could provide Steyer with a formidable grassroots base.) “It’s important to stand up for the American democracy,” Steyer told Rolling Stone about the fight for impeachment. “We believe fighting against a reckless and lawless president is not something that will turn off voters.”
RS Coverage: A Conversation With Tom Steyer, the Liberal Billionaire Bankrolling Trump’s Impeachment

12) Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard, 38, is the first Hindu to serve in the House of Representatives. She’s pitching herself to progressives (including with a bill to legalize marijuana) and to pacifists: The Iraq veteran is running against endless wars. Gabbard has shown poise on the debate stage and gained an enthusiastic grassroots following. But there’s something off. Her campaign continues to get an odd signal boost from Russian propaganda networks and the Putin government itself.
Signature Policy: Gabbard has staked her campaign in opposition to wars of regime change. But her foreign policy credentials are unsettling: She visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2017 on a secret “fact-finding” mission and dismissed his opposition — across the board — as terrorists. (Read more about Gabbard’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Into adulthood, Gabbard espoused virulently anti-LGBTQ views. She released an apology video saying, “In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong.”
RS Coverage: Who’s Afraid of Tulsi Gabbard?

13) Michael Bennet

The 54-year-old senator is campaigning for a return to integrity in government and a revival of American economic mobility. Bennet positions himself as “pragmatic idealist” and has been calling for Democrats to temper ideas like packing the Supreme Court. He has been lauded by “Morning” Joe Scarborough for combining “an Ivy League pedigree” with “a common touch,” and for his “commitment to key centrist fiscal policies.” Bennett raised a respectable $2.1 million in the third quarter.
Signature Policy: Medicare X. With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bennet is proposing legislation to create, and slowly roll out, a public option for the Obamacare state marketplaces, with the same doctor and hospital networks as Medicare, and similar reimbursement rates. Bennet has called Medicare for All, which would disrupt existing health care plans for millions, “bad opening offer.” (Read more about Bennet’s platform.)
RS Coverage: The 21st Democratic Presidential Candidate Has Entered the 2020 Race — Make It Stop

14) Marianne Williamson

Williamson is campaigning to give the United States a “moral and spiritual awakening,” and two at-times-soaring debate performances have piqued national curiosity about the self-help guru. But Williamson, the love warrior, is also dogged by a record of battling science, most recently calling on group prayer to block hurricane Dorian’s destruction. She raised about $3 million in the third quarter.
Signature Policy: Called for as much as $500 billion in reparations for black people. Scholars have estimated a fair value for reparations at between $6 and $14 trillion. (Read more about Williamson’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In her Prayer of Apology to African Americans, the bestselling author apologizes for slavery, lynchings, white supremacist laws, the denial of voting rights, the denial of civil rights, unequal treatment of black Americans in the criminal-justice system, police brutality, economic injustice and more, asking God for forgiveness. “May the screams that were not allowed, be allowed now/May the cries that were never heard be heard now/May the tears that were never heard be heard now/And may the healing begin/In this sacred container, may the healing begin/May the light of love now heal us all/Amen.”
RS Coverage: Marianne Williamson Is the Cosmic Sorceress We Need Now

15) Steve Bullock

The Montana governor with a Deadwood-worthy name is a 2020 dark horse. He entered the race in May and made a folksy introduction from the Detroit debates. Even in a crowded field, Bullock’s experience stands out. He won statewide office in a state Trump carried by 20 points — and then got a GOP-majority legislature to agree to expand Medicaid. He raised $2 million in his debut fundraising quarter. 
Signature Policy: The 53-year-old has focused on ending the influence of unlimited political contributions and dark money. “If we can kick the Koch brothers out of Montana,” he said in Detroit, “we can do it everywhere.” (Read more about Bullock’s platform.)
Signature Apology: A former Bullock aide, fired for sexual harassment, went on to harass again in the office of the mayor of New York City. “I should have done more to ensure future employers would learn of his behavior,” Bullock wrote in February. “These realizations come too late for the two women in New York City. For that, I’m deeply sorry.”
RS Coverage: The Democrats’ Battle for Montana

16) Tim Ryan

A nine-term congressman, Ryan represents postindustrial Youngstown, Ohio, and wants Democrats to compete for the disaffected voters who turned to Trump in 2016. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ryan, 45, insisted, “I think we need an absolute, aggressive campaign in rural America, because I think we can win those voters back.” In the wake of the mass shooting in Dayton, Ryan has shown gumption and moral clarity in demanding gun control: “We can’t back down.”
Signature Policy: The centerpiece of Ryan’s candidacy is a long-term industrial strategy to make the U.S. competitive with China in industries like automotive, solar, wind, and clean manufacturing. (Read more about Ryan’s platform.)
RS Coverage: Tim Ryan: “We Need an Absolute, Aggressive Campaign in Rural America”

17) John Delaney

The former Maryland Congressman, 56, has been running for president since July 2017, preaching a relentlessly bipartisan message of national unity. An entrepreneur in high finance, Delaney launched two companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. At the debate in Detroit, Delaney got a long-sought-after moment in the spotlight — but Democrats disliked his message. One poll found that 32 percent came away with a less favorable opinion, compared to just 2 percent who were impressed. One thing that won’t hold Delaney down is funding: He is worth close to $100 million and is largely self-financing his campaign. (He raised only $284,000 in the second quarter.)
Signature Policy: Delaney is promoting a national youth service program to bring the country together. (Read more about Delaney’s platform.)
RS Coverage: John Delaney Says He’s “Skating to Where the Puck Is Going”

18) Joe Sestak

The former three-star Navy admiral and two-term congressman threw his hat into the 2020 ring in mid-June, and has been spotted stumping before sparse crowds in Iowa. Sestak is a name political junkies will remember from his failed bids for a senate seat from Pennsylvania. In 2010, he unseated the party-switching Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary, before losing to Republican Pat Toomey in the general. (Sestak lost an expensive Democratic primary race in 2016.)
Signature Policy: Sestak is campaigning on his military and foreign-policy credentials insisting he “has the depth of global experience to restore America’s leadership in the world.”

19) Wayne Messam

The mayor of fast-growing Miramar, Florida, Messam has a low national profile. But the 45-year-old was recently elected to a third term in the Miami suburb (with more residents than South Bend, Indiana) and the former football standout set his sights on Washington. His campaign hasn’t made the case for his executive talents, however. Messam 2020 was rocked by internal conflict and alarming reports of financial mismanagement. It raised just $5 dollars in the third quarter, and spent nothing. The campaign appears all but dead.
Signature Policy: Messam has called for statehood for Puerto Rico, and was the first Democrat to call for canceling all student debt. “It’s interesting to see other candidates now beginning to start to put out a proposal,” Messam said in West Des Moines, Iowa, referencing Warren’s debt-relief plan. (Read more about Messam’s platform.)

2020 Campaign Graveyard

Here lie the presidential ambitions of fallen Democratic contenders:

Bill de Blasio
Dropped Out: 9/20/19, after 128 days
Parting Words: “I feel like I’ve contributed all I can to this primary election. It’s clearly not my time.”
Last Wish: “Democrats must return to our roots as a party focused on bold solutions that speak to the concerns of working people.”

Kirsten Gillibrand
Dropped Out: 8/28/19, after 225 days
Parting Words: “We led the fights we can’t afford to lose for women and families — and moved the entire field along with us.”
Last Wish: “We have to defeat President Trump, flip the Senate and elect women up and down the ballot.”

Seth Moulton
Dropped Out: 8/23/19, after 124 days
Parting Words: “I will be campaigning my ass off for whoever wins our nomination in 2020.”
Last Wish: That Americans embrace hope: “Hope is what gets us, as individuals, through the darkest of times. And it is what will lead our country through the darkest of times as well.”

Jay Inslee
Dropped Out: 8/21/19, after 174 days
Parting Words: “It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball. I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race.”
Last Wish: That the climate crisis “must be the top priority for our next president.” And a third term as governor in the other Washington: “I want to continue to stand with you in opposing Donald Trump and rejecting his hurtful and divisive agenda, while strengthening and enhancing Washington state’s role as a progressive beacon for the nation.”

John Hickenlooper
Dropped Out:
8/15/19, after 164 days
Parting Words:
“I ran for president because this country is being ripped apart, by politics and partisan games, while our biggest problems go unsolved.”
Last Wish:
A different national office. “I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. I intend to give that some serious thought.” (Hickenlooper announced his Senate bid less than a week later.)

Mike Gravel
Dropped Out:
8/6/19, after 126 days
Parting Words:
“I am proud and honored to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for the presidency of the United States.”
Last Wish:
That Americans vote for democratic socialism over “Republican socialism, which benefits the one percent and leads us to a constant state of war.”

Eric Swalwell
Dropped Out:
7/8/19, after 91 days
Parting Words:
“Weaknesses will be flushed out and a leader will emerge.”
Last Wish:
That the eventual nominee supports an assault-weapons ban and buyback.

Richard Ojeda
Dropped Out:
1/25/19, after 79 days
Parting Words:
“When I was a kid in grade school, my teachers always said that anyone could grow up and become president. Unfortunately, what I’m starting to realize is that unless you have wealth, influence, and power, it’s not gonna happen.”
Last Wish:
“Whoever does win the presidency needs to be somebody who is willing to check Big Pharma.”

Love our rankings? Disagree with a passion? Tell us what we got right — or wrong — on Twitter: @RSPolitics. This leaderboard is updated regularly.


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