The 2020 election is less than a year away. The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are just around the corner.
By now, the contours of the Democratic presidential field have come into focus. Joe Biden has coasted on his familiarity with Democratic voters, his Rolodex of deep-pocketed donors, and his eschewing of nuanced policy plans for a singular focus on dislodging Trump from office and bringing sanity back to the presidency. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, have put forward sweeping visions for how they would correct three decades of failed trickle-down economics and disastrous foreign wars. They support nothing less than a reimagining of American government by embracing Medicare for all, erasing student debt, and passing universal childcare, paid for with new taxes on the very wealthiest Americans.
For the moment, restoration appears to be beating out revolution. The momentum that swept Warren to the top of our rankings in the early fall has not proved durable. While she remains a formidable contender, Warren has lost the edge in early-state polling as Pete Buttigieg has gathered steam in Iowa and New Hampshire. The prime beneficiary of this dynamic is Biden, who has steadied his campaign, reestablished a nearly 10-point edge in national polling, and now looks strong in state polls from South Carolina to California.
After winnowing at an agreeable pace, the size of the rest of the field is now growing again. Former Massachusetts Governor and Bain Capital partner Deval Patrick has officially thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate, and billionaire former mayor Michael Bloomberg is revving his engines on the sidelines. Below we rank the nearly 20 Democrats running for the nomination in 2020.
1) Joe Biden
The former vice president offers 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 and voters of color, 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. He raised $15 million in the third quarter, a steep falloff from his first haul of $21.5 million, and entered the fourth quarter with less than $9 million cash on hand. An outside SuperPAC launched in October to help keep Biden financially competitive.
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
2) Elizabeth Warren
The Massachusetts senator continues to outpace her competitors on policy, most recently with a detailed plan to implement Medicare for All without raising income or payroll taxes. 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
3) Bernie Sanders
Despite a recent heart attack, the 78-year-old Sanders is on a roll — fresh off a strong debate performance and the endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in front of a crowd of 25,000 in Queens. Sanders is riding a potent combination of people-power and cash. The campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field. And Sanders raised more than $25 million in the third quarter and recently passed the mark of 4 million donations, a record for this stage in a campaign. 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.
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) Pete Buttigieg
If you were to just look at Iowa and New Hampshire polling, you’d swear Pete Buttigieg was the 2020 frontrunner. But Buttigieg continues to be held back by what we’ll politely call a lack of resonance with voters of color — suggesting he could hit a wall in racially-diverse early-voting states like Nevada and particularly South Carolina, where he is polling less than 1 percent among black voters.The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has surged while making a play for the party’s moderate wing, with policies like Medicare for All (Who Want It) and free public college (for families earning less than $100,000). Plainspoken and steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits, and his is fundraising is prodigious: Buttigieg raised more than $19 million in the third quarter.
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
5) Kamala Harris
Harris showed fearlessness and precision in attacking Biden in a June Democratic debate. But her subsequent debates have been lackluster, and Harris has been sliding in the polls. She recently laid off campaign staff in New Hampshire, seeking to go all in on Iowa, where she is also struggling. 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. This straddle has always run the risk of failing to inspire either faction, and Harris now seems stuck in a mushy middle. Still, Harris raised nearly $12 million for the third quarter. And her ceiling is high. Buttigieg’s weakness with voters of color is Harris’s quiet strength. 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 still boost her prospects in an early-voting state like South Carolina.
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
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) 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. The latest poll has her at 6 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
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) 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. In October, Hillary Clinton accused her of being a Russian “asset.” Gabbard denounced Clinton as “queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party.” The free publicity has led to a small surge in the polls that qualified Gabbard for the November debate.
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?
10) 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
11) 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
12) 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 $2.3 million in the third 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
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, “a 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) Deval Patrick
Deval Patrick, a former two-term governor and Bain Capital partner, declared his candidacy in mid-November. The 63 year old is a friend of former President Obama and seems to be casting himself as the keeper of the Yes-We-Can flame. Patrick has an appealing life story, rising from a tenement on Chicago’s South Side to become Massachusetts’ chief executive, and he may find fans in neighboring New Hampshire. But his late-entry remains puzzling. In polls, nearly three quarters of Democratic voters said they liked their choices, and Patrick already missed the deadlines to appear on the ballot in Arkansas and Alabama, squandering a shot at those delegates.
Signature Policy: Patrick promises to root out “hyper-partisan gerrymandering where the party picks the voter rather than the other way around.”
RS Coverage: Deval Patrick’s Bain Capital Bio Has Vanished. Here’s What it Said
15) 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 $14 trillion. (Read more about Williamson’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In her Prayer of Apology to African Americans, the bestselling author apologizes for slavery, lynchings, white supremacist laws, the denial of voting rights, the denial of civil rights, unequal treatment of black Americans in the criminal-justice system, police brutality, economic injustice and more, asking God for forgiveness. “May the screams that were not allowed, be allowed now/May the cries that were never heard be heard now/May the tears that were never heard be heard now/And may the healing begin/In this sacred container, may the healing begin/May the light of love now heal us all/Amen.”
RS Coverage: That Marianne Mind$et: Obeying the Law of Divine Compensation
16) 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. Delaney has blown more than $24 million on this bid and seems determined to gut it out through New Hampshire if not beyond.
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”
17) 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.”
FFS) Michael Bloomberg, if he actually runs
The 77-year-old former mayor of New York has, apparently, surveyed the 2020 Democrat field and decided he just may be what’s missing. Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to imagine Bloomberg, a devout centrist and former Republican, winning the nomination of a Democratic Party. That’s especially true given that the party is moving left — an unfavorable trend for Bloomberg given his skepticism of progressive economic policy and past embrace of racist police tactics.
Signature Policy: Bloomberg is fully in step with today’s Democrats on gun regulation. He has used some of his massive fortune to fund group including “Everytown for Gun Safety,” which advocates sensible gun regulations in a country that desperately needs them.
Signature Apology: When he decided not to run in the Spring, Bloomberg mocked Joe Biden for launching with an “apology tour.” Bloomberg has now embarked on one of his own. A staffer apologized for sexist and demeaning jokes published in a pamphlet in 1990, Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg, saying, “Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.” Bloomberg also apologized for his embrace of stop-and-frisk policing: “I can’t change history, however today I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong and I’m sorry.”
RS Coverage: Enter Mike Bloomberg, Exit Black Voters
2020 Campaign Graveyard
Here lie the presidential ambitions of fallen Democratic contenders:
Dropped Out: 11/20/19, after 238 days
Parting Words: “Although the campaign goal of becoming President was not realized at this moment… we have impacted this 2020 campaign… by challenging the status quo and not waiting our turn to make difference and to spark change.”
Last Wish: That we all “take a stand to ensure the American Dream that attracted my parents and so many others to this great nation can still be achieved.”
Dropped Out: 11/01/19, after 232 days
Parting Words: “We laid bare the cost and consequence of Donald Trump: the rise in hate crimes, the terror attack in El Paso, the perversion of the Constitution, the diminished standing of the United States around the world.”
Last Wish: “Let us continue to fearlessly champion the issues and causes that brought us together. Whether it is ending the epidemic of gun violence or dismantling structural racism or successfully confronting climate change before it is too late.”
Dropped Out: 10/24/19, after 200 days
Parting Words: “I got into this race in April to really give voice to the forgotten people of our country. I look forward to continuing that fight.”
Last Wish: Ryan is seeking House reelection in Ohio so that the voice of “forgotten communities that have been left behind by globalization and automation” will not be “stifled.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.)
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.”
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.
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.