Democratic 2020 Presidential Candidates Ranked - Rolling Stone
Home Politics Politics Features

The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard

Ranking a crowded field of contenders jockeying to confront Trump

Shutterstock (6)

After emerging victorious in the popular vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders holds on to the top spot in our rankings. The Vermont senator is consolidating the progressive wing of the party, to the detriment of Elizabeth Warren, while the center-left-lane is just getting more crowded with plausible contenders. If moderate voters consolidate behind a single candidate, Sanders is beatable. But no candidate in that lane has yet shown the strength needed to knock out the competition — and nobody is volunteering to stand aside.

Pete Buttigieg’s strong showing in the first two contests actually gives him a delegate lead — for now. But as the nominating contest shifts to more diverse states, it’s hard to see where he wins next. A surging Amy Klobuchar is winning media attention after her third-place New Hampshire finish, but she’s hardly shown more resonance with voters of color than Mayor Pete. Joe Biden has been a disaster out of the gate, but he could still redeem his campaign with a big win in South Carolina, buoyed by African Americans who have backed him strongly in the polls. Waiting in the wings is Mike Bloomberg, who is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the Super Tuesday states, has surged to third place national surveys, and appears ready to pick up centrist support if Biden can’t seal the deal in South Carolina.

As we assess the fallout from New Hampshire, we also bid farewell to Andrew Yang, whose viral #YangGang phenomenon didn’t translate into many actual votes. Launch-failures Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick have also dropped out. Below we rank the eight Democratic candidates still in the running.

RELATED: RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

1) Bernie Sanders

The 78-year-old Sanders is on a roll — riding a potent combination of people-power and cash. The campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field, and he’s built his campaign with the help of more than 1.6 million individual donors, raising a whopping $34.5 million in the fourth quarter. Sanders does not have the left lane to himself as he did in 2016. But he is seen as the uncompromising champion of Medicare for All, and 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. He recently received a clean bill of health after an October heart attack.
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.
Delegates: 21
RS Coverage:
On the Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0

2) Joe Biden

The former vice president offers America a seductive promise a reboot from the Trump catastrophe and a return to the sanity of 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, 77. At his Philadelphia kickoff rally last May, Biden touted his record as a Mr. Fixit: “I know how to make government work.” But Biden’s terrible showing in Iowa and New Hampshire is eroding his electability narrative. If can score a big win in South Carolina, it could key a national comeback. If not, he’s likely toast.
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.”
Delegates: 6
RS Coverage:
Joe Biden Is Not Helping

3) Michael Bloomberg

The 77-year-old former mayor of New York launched his campaign in late November, shocking and awing America with a wildly expensive national ad campaign that branded him as a: “Jobs Creator. Leader. Problem Solver.” Bloomberg has now spent more than $300 million on his campaign, vaulting him into third place in national polling. While the Bloomberg boomlet is real, we’re still finding it hard to imagine hard to imagine a centrist former Republican, who backed George W. Bush in 2004 and embraced racist police tactics as mayor, winning the nomination of today’s left-leaning Democratic Party.
Signature Policy: Bloomberg is fully in step with today’s Democrats on gun regulation. He has used some of his massive fortune to fund groups including “Everytown for Gun Safety,” which advocates for 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 1990 pamphlet, 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.” And Bloomberg recently visited a black church to apologize 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: The Mike Bloomberg Black New Yorkers Know

4) Pete Buttigieg

He’s the unlikely phenom of 2020. But Buttigieg continues to be held back by what we’ll politely call a lack of resonance with voters of color — suggesting he could soon hit a wall in racially-diverse early-voting states like Nevada and particularly South Carolina. The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is 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). Steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits, and his is fundraising is prodigious, including nearly $25 million in the fourth 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.”
Delegates: 22
RS Coverage: Is America Ready for Mayor Pete?; Pete Buttigieg’s True Privilege

5) Elizabeth Warren

Warren soared to the top of the 2020 Democratic field last fall on the strength of bold, progressive policies. But Warren, 70, has fallen behind Sanders in the progressive lane and hasn’t been able to shore up support from moderates. She placed well in Iowa, but failed to rack up any delegates in New Hampshire. Relying on grassroots donors, Warren raised $21.2 million in the fourth quarter. She remains the most widely acceptable candidate in contention and could get a second wind if the field narrows quickly.
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.”
Delegates: 8
RS Coverage: Elizabeth Warren: The Rolling Stone Interview

6) Amy Klobuchar

The Minnesota senator’s understated persona stands in contrast to Trump’s bluster and bravado, winning her a co-endorsement from the New York Times, which praised her as the “standard-bearer for the Democratic center.” With an impressive $11.4 fourth quarter fundraising haul, Klobuchar, 59, had a decent showing in Iowa and a surge in New Hampshire. Can the senator who launched her campaign in a blizzard capitalize on her media moment and make a stir in sunny Nevada?
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.
Delegates: 7
RS Coverage: Amy Klobuchar on Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Road Ahead

7) Tom Steyer

The progressive billionaire best known for leading an impeachment crusade against President Trump threw his hat into the crowded 2020 ring last July, promising to betray his class and wrest political power from America’s moneyed interests. After two poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire Steyer is banking on making a stir in South Carolina. He’s got the money to keep going indefinitely, but even Steyer can’t keep pace with Bloomberg’s spending.
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

8) 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.” Gabbard continued her peculiar run of form by voting “present” on Trump’s articles of impeachment. She raised $3.4 million in the fourth quarter.
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?

2020 Campaign Graveyard

Here lie the presidential ambitions of fallen Democratic contenders:

Deval Patrick
Dropped Out: 2/12/20 after 89 days
Parting Words: “The vote in New Hampshire … was not enough for us to create the practical wind at the campaign’s back to go onto the next round of voting.”
Last Wish: “We have a unique opportunity to use our shared pain redemptively to bring the country together. No one can stand on the sidelines at a time like this.”

Michael Bennet
Dropped Out:
2/11/20, after 285 days
Parting Words: “I feel nothing but joy tonight as we conclude this campaign and this chapter.”
Last Wish: “I love our country. I love the idea of democracy. And I want to pass it on to the next generation.”

Andrew Yang
Dropped Out: 2/11/20, after 827 days
Parting Words: “I stand before you today and say that while we did not win this election, we are just getting started. This is the beginning.”
Last Wish: “I hope this campaign can be a message and a word of caution and guidance to my Democratic colleagues that Donald Trump is not the cause of all of our problems.”

John Delaney
Dropped Out: 1/31/20, after 918 days
Parting Words: “It has been a privilege to campaign for the Democratic nomination for President, but it is clear that God has a different purpose for me at this moment in time.”
Last Wish: “Let’s stop the nonsense of unrealistic and divisive campaign promises and be the party the American people need — a decent, unifying, future-focused and common-sense party.”

Cory Booker
Dropped Out: 1/13/20, after 347 days
Parting Words: “It is my faith in us, my faith in us together as a nation, that we share common pain and common problems that can only be solved with a common purpose and a sense of common cause.”
Last Wish: “We may have challenges right now in our nation, but together we will rise.”

Marianne Williamson
Dropped Out: 1/10/20, after 346 days
Parting Words: “A politics of conscience is still yet possible. And yes….love will prevail.”
Last Wish: “These are not times to despair; they are simply times to rise up.”

Julián Castro
Dropped Out: 1/2/20, after 355 days
Parting Words: “I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. I’m going to keep fighting for an America where everyone counts—I hope you’ll join me in that fight.”
Last Wish: “I’m not done fighting. I’ll keep working towards a nation where everyone counts, a nation where everyone can get a good job, good health care and a decent place to live.”
Endorsement: Elizabeth Warren

Kamala Harris
Dropped Out:
  12/3/19, after 316 days
Parting Words: “Our campaign has been about fighting for people whose voices that have not been heard or too often ignored. We will keep up that fight.”
Last Wish: That her supporters “keep fighting for the America we believe in, an America free of injustice.”

Steve Bullock
Dropped Out:  12/2/19, after 202 days
Parting Words: “It has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates.”
Last Wish: That “we confront our greatest challenges head-on and lead the way in the community of nations.”

Joe Sestak
Dropped Out:  12/1/19, after 62 days
Parting Words: “Without the privilege of national press, it is unfair to ask others to husband their resolve and sacrifice resources any longer.”
Last Wish: For a president to repair our tattered social fabric: “It can be repaired by someone who can lead, and therefore unite, America.”

Wayne Messam
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.”

Beto O’Rourke
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.”

Tim Ryan
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.”
Endorsement: Joe Biden

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.


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.