It’s been a long wait, but 2020 is almost here! And with it, the arrival of actual votes by actual caucus-goers and primary voters!
The field of viable candidates has narrowed considerably over the past few months, with only seven people making it onto the stage for Thursday’s sixth presidential debate. While several candidates who missed the debate qualifications – New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker being the most obvious – insist they are staying in the race for the long haul, that gets harder and harder as the money dries up.
Below, our rankings of the 10 candidates most likely to wind up as the party’s nominee. Don’t see your preferred candidate on the list? Or don’t like where we have them ranked? Never fear: The Iowa caucuses aren’t until February 3!
10. Julián Castro: The former San Antonio mayor stays on our list because he’s clearly the most talented of the candidates lingering in the lower tiers. But everything Castro has tried to change his trajectory in the race hasn’t worked. In the wake of Sen. Kamala Harris’ departure from the contest, Castro sought to make hay by noting that the top tier of the field was now all white, but his numbers haven’t moved an inch. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. Tom Steyer: He’s going to be on the debate stage for the foreseeable future, thanks to spending a ton of dough and securing a lot of donors. But let’s be real, folks: tens of millions of dollars spent and Steyer isn’t moving up in the polls. He’s also been supplanted in the self-funding lane by Bloomberg. (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Cory Booker: Booker has pledged to remain in the race despite missing the debate stage this month for the first time. Maybe! But given the size of his staff and the expectations he entered the race with, it may be hard to sustain a campaign at the level he would like all the way through Iowa. (Previous ranking: 8)
7. Andrew Yang: Yang barely qualified for Thursday’s debate, but barely making is better than barely missing. Given that he started this race at 0%, Yang’s arguably had one of the most successful campaigns to date. And while he’s unlikely to become the Democratic nominee, he’s outlasted a lot of sitting members of Congress and governors. (Previous ranking: 7)
6. Michael Bloomberg: The former New York City mayor’s massive personal spending ($100 million+ on TV ads alone) is having an impact. The last four national polls have shown Bloomberg at 5%, 5%, 5% and 7%. Which isn’t 30%! But it’s pretty rapid growth that has to encourage Bloomberg’s team. The question that still lingers around Bloomberg is whether someone who skips the first four voting states – basically all of February – can make a real run at the nomination. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Amy Klobuchar: One of the big questions heading into Thursday’s debate is whether Minnesota’s senior senator tries to take a bite out of Pete Buttigieg. Both are performing significantly better in Iowa than nationally. Further, Klobuchar’s strong performance stood out in the last debate, and voters may be yearning for another non-male candidate to join the top ranks. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Elizabeth Warren: As good as the summer was to the Massachusetts senator, the fall has been that bad. Warren has watched as she has dropped to the bottom of the top tier in the race. Why? No one reason, although her open embrace of “Medicare for All” coupled with back-to-back middling showings in the two most recent debates likely played a major role. Writing off Warren would be a major mistake, however, given the strength of her organization in Iowa and the fact that she remains a gifted explainer of the liberal policies she espouses. (Previous ranking: 3)
3. Pete Buttigieg: The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is clearly a player in Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s moved down a smidge in our list because he’s shown no ability to appeal to nonwhite voters, who make up roughly 40% of the Democratic primary electorate nationally. Buttigieg has stalled just south of 10% in national polls, and he’s also getting attacked a lot more. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Bernie Sanders: Don’t call it a comeback! Actually, do. Because the Vermont senator, who was sidelined earlier this fall by a heart attack, has emerged from that health scare with a new momentum – especially among liberals. Sanders’ poll numbers are up both nationally and in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Plus: Sanders ended September with more than $30 million left to spend on the race, meaning he is going to be in this race for a long time. (Previous ranking: 4)
1. Joe Biden: The former vice president is as steady as they come. Biden consistently polls between 25% and 30% in primary polls. This has occurred even as he has had unsteady debate performances. Now, 25% hardly makes a dominating front-runner, but it does make a front-runner. To knock him off his perch, Biden’s competitors will have to beat him in Iowa. Even if they do, though, they’ll still have to figure out how to beat a guy lapping the field among the often pivotal black voter base of the party. (Previous ranking: 1)