Take a look at the 2018 Democratic primary season and three things immediately leap out at you:
- Women are winning. Everywhere. According to Cook Political Report House editor David Wasserman, in open Democratic House primaries with at least one man and one woman running, women have won 69% of the time.
- Liberals are winning. From Andrew Gillum in Florida’s governor’s race to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley in the House, candidates positioning themselves as unapologetic progressives are meeting with success.
- People of color are winning. Gillum is one of three African-American nominees for governor in 2018, a historic number. (Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland are the other two.)
We are nothing if not mindful of the the messages voters are sending at the ballot box. Because of that, we are crowning a new king – er, queen – in our monthly rankings of the 10 people most likely to wind up as the Democratic nominee for president against Donald Trump in 2020.
We won’t spoil the surprise – you’ll have to scroll down to do that – but will tell you that Joe Biden has been knocked out of the top spot. While Biden still leads in most hypothetical polling of the Democratic field and will likely benefit from a decent chunk of Barack Obama’s support network if he runs, the former vice president looks like a very odd fit for what Democratic voters seem to be drawn to these days. He’s a white guy who was in the Senate for more than four decades. He’s 75 and will be 77 on Election Day 2020. (He’ll turn 78 shortly after that election.)
None of that means Biden can’t win. It just means that, at least at the moment, his profile is a mismatch for the Democratic Party base.
Without further ado, our list of the 10 potential candidates – including Biden! – with the best chances of claiming the nomination.
ADDED from last month: Beto O’Rourke
DROPPED from last month: Deval Patrick
10. Beto O’Rourke: Yes, we know that O’Rouke is currently just a House member in the minority party. And that he is still less than a 50-50 bet in his challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this fall. BUT – and yes, it is a big “but” – if O’Rourke does beat Cruz, he will immediately be touted as one of the hottest things in Democratic politics. And buzz like that you simply can’t buy. Plus, O’Rourke has already proven he is a remarkably strong fundraiser; he has brought in $23 million in less than two years even while refusing all donations from political action committees. (Previous ranking: not ranked)
9. Steve Bullock: Bullock’s one-space jump is because you gotta be in it to win it, and he has visited Iowa on multiple occasions. And if Democrats are interested in nominating an outsider with a proven record of winning in hostile territory, why not this twice-elected governor of Montana? Bullock’s profile could help him stand out in a field likely to be larger than the crowd for a Billy Joel concert on Long Island. Still, nobody knows who he is in a large field that will make it harder for him to become known. He’s also a white man from a state in which he has never really needed the votes of blacks or Hispanics. (Previous ranking: 10)
8. Eric Garcetti: Mayors – especially ones without massive amounts of personal cash – often struggle when trying to make the leap to the national stage. And that will be a challenge for Garcetti too – although being the mayor of Los Angeles is not exactly a small-town gig. Garcetti’s message – as he has been previewing in speeches in key primary states around the country – leans heavily on his background as the son of immigrants and outside-of-Washington experience. “Washington serves as an enabler of our greatness, not the restorer of it,” Garcetti said. “That’s a new system. That’s a new system that actually works.” (Previous ranking: 8)
7. Amy Klobuchar: The senior senator from Minnesota has moved up two slots for two reasons. First, Klobuchar continues to look like she’s heading for a landslide victory this year in the swingy Midwest. This should appeal to Democrats who want to win back this region from Trump. Second, Klobuchar is the only woman on our list who is not running to the left. This unique combination of a more moderate tone with demographic appeal could pay dividends. Klobuchar’s record, though, could also hurt her among the growing liberal base of the party. She also comes from a very white state, which potentially leaves her unprepared to appeal to the nonwhite base of the party. (Previous ranking: 9)
6. Cory Booker: Booker’s protestations during the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were a perfect litmus test for views about him going into 2020. If you are pro-Booker, you viewed his standing up for the release of documents regarding race and Kavanaugh as an example of his willingness to speak truth to power. If you are anti-Booker, you will see it as nothing more than a political stunt designed to raise his credibility with liberal 2020 voters. Either way, the episode – coupled with his aggressive travel coming up to early-voting states – seemed to confirm that the New Jersey senator is planning to run. (Previous ranking: 7)
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5. Bernie Sanders: We’ve kept Sanders in the fifth slot for each of our rankings, and we see no reason to switch now. He retains high favorability ratings nationwide and a devoted base of followers. And if anyone questions his outsider bona fides in a country sick of Washington, remember he turned down the Democratic nomination for Senate in Vermont this year. That latter point, though, is a double-edge sword. Most voters in Democratic primaries are Democrats, not independents. Not to mention that Sanders is an old white man just like Biden. With Democrats having other progressive options who line up better with where the party is heading demographically, Sanders may be a figure of a bygone era. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Kirsten Gillibrand: The New York senator is – smartly, if you ask us – hanging just at the back of the lead pack in the rapidly forming race. She’s taking opportunities where they come – she was the first senator to call for abolishing ICE – but, generally speaking, not trying to dominate the early conversation about the race. That’s smart given that the biggest danger in a contest that is likely to last 18-ish months is peaking too early. Gillibrand has moved way left during her time in the Senate but will likely have to answer for several years of much more moderate votes when she represented a more conservative House district in upstate New York. (Previous ranking: 4)
3. Joe Biden: The former vice president’s move to three has less to do with himself and more to do with the competition. He is still well-liked, connected to the most well-liked Democrat in the country (former President Barack Obama) and leads in the early primary polls. Biden would be a formidable foe. But his problems remain: He’s an old white middle-of-the-road Democrat in a party that is getting younger, more diverse and more liberal. Fewer than half of the Democratic nominees for the House this year are white men. Moreover, Biden seems to recognize that his time may have passed. While he hasn’t ruled out a run, he’s not locking down supporters either. (Previous ranking: 1)
2. Kamala Harris: Like Booker, Harris clearly saw the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings as a chance to showcase her prosecutorial mettle. And like Booker, what you took from Harris’ performance during the hearings is likely determined by what you thought of her before the hearings. But if you are looking at what the 2018 primaries have taught us, it’s that a candidate with a profile like Harris’ – liberal record, the first Indian-American in the Senate and first black senator from California – could be just what Democratic primary voters are looking for. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Elizabeth Warren: Why the move to number one? It’s increasingly clear that Warren fits the political moment better than most and can unite the different factions of the Democratic Party. She’s a progressive in a party that is moving left. She’s championed fighting corruption and fighting the establishment in an era where corruption is seen as one of the country’s biggest problems. Unlike Bernie Sanders, though, Warren is actually a Democrat and is less likely to scare the establishment. Warren is also a woman, and women have been winning Democratic primaries in 2018 in record numbers. Importantly, Warren is clearly gearing up to run by opening herself up to the press. (Previous ranking: 2)