More than a dozen politicians (and counting) are vying for the Democratic nomination for president. Who’s up to the task?
This is a look at declared candidates who consistently poll in the top 5. Joe Biden (who is not officially running but probably will be soon) is also included, since he regularly finishes at or near first place.
(Note: all observations are based on recent polls, historical lessons and news but they are also the opinions of one author).
Strengths: Biden can give strong debate performances- note especially his work in the vice-presidential debate of 2012, when he rode to the rescue of the entire Obama campaign. Biden was, of course, Barack Obama’s VP and therefore is strongly associated with the country’s best-loved Democrat. He tends to be viewed (at least by the Left) as a gregarious, likeable man.
Drawbacks: During his 2008 presidential campaign, Biden often made cringe-worthy remarks. During the Obama years, Republicans tended to portray him as inept, and this is likely to resurface if he was the Democratic nominee. Yes, he’s technically won this race twice, but does anyone think that had much to do with him?
Likely to beat Trump? No. The leftmost wing of the party would not be happy with Biden, and the Democratic nominee must appeal to at least some of them or risk enough non-voters and 3rd party votes to sink their campaign. Biden’s time as Obama’s VP might help somewhat, but as 2010 and 2014 taught us, when Obama himself is not on the ballot, his base may not turn out.
BERNIE SANDERS (for a detailed breakdown of Sanders’ general election chances, click here)
Strengths: He has a passionate, intensely motivated base and comes across as very genuine- an unflinchingly honest straight shooter and a man of the people. In 2016, Senator Sanders gave the Clinton juggernaut a run for its money. Also, Sanders is likely to bring in many new voters and sway some Green Party voters.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW...
Drawbacks: While Bernie Sanders has an energized base, his appeal is very narrow compared to some of the other candidates. Thus far, Sanders has not impressed many centrists or black voters- both groups are extremely important. Without them, Donald Trump will be reelected. The “Democratic Socialist” label he embraces could be perilous in a general election.
Likely to beat Trump? No. The GOP’s 2020 strategy appears to be a lot of fearmongering about Socialism- Bernie Sanders plays right into this hand.Also, his nomination would isolate too much of the Democratic base. He would likely struggle in the Rust Belt and would certainly struggle in Southern swing-states.
Strengths: This California senator had much less name recognition than many other candidates but has managed to surge in the polls. As of this writing, she tops all but Sanders and Biden. Harris supports many leftist rallying points- such as Medicare for All- but appears to attract more of the Democratic base than Bernie Sanders. This is particularly true of minority voters, but polling has seen an increase in her appeal among many demographics.
Drawbacks: Kamala Harris has limited experience, having served in the senate since for just two years. She would likely be portrayed as too liberal for Middle America, though it is unclear whether Middle America would buy this or not (they did not with a certain Kenyan-born Communist dictator- but then again he was an especially gifted politician).
Likely to beat Trump? Yes. While 45 will inevitably find some cute nickname, nothing appears in Harris’ record that will stick quite like “Crooked Hillary-” in other words, Trump has less to work with. Of the candidates who were unknown prior to this cycle, Harris’ surge is impressive and her combination of left-leaning voting record and broad appeal to the base means she should not be underestimated.
Strengths: He ultimately came up short, but in 2018 the charismatic Beto O’Rourke got dangerously close to beating Ted Cruz (in other words, a nationally known Republican who holds statewide office in Texas). Some pundits have discussed the possibility of O’Rourke winning the Lone Star State in a presidential election. This is obviously a huge longshot (the last Democrat to do so was Jimmy Carter). But the Democratic candidate with even the faintest hope in Texas stands a good chance in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Drawbacks: There is a lack of specificity from O’Rourke on a lot of issues, to a point that might be called a lack of substance. It did not appear to matter much in 2018, (or in 2016, among Trump’s supporters). In the mad rush to beat the president, it still might not in 2020. Nonetheless, someone asking to become president should know what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it should he get there.
Likely to beat Trump? Yes. O’Rourke would be a threat to Trump in Southern swing-states that the president cannot afford to lose, especially as polling in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota has indicated Trump should not count on those states this time. The Texan is charming and draws crowds and money- and his general-election rival did not have much of a plan when he ran in 2016 (just how will Trump make Mexico pay for that wall)? He still doesn’t (we could ask that same question today).
Strengths: Senator Warren is extremely knowledgeable and tends to have in-depth, substantive answers and solutions.
Drawbacks: The senator from Massachusetts- and Harvard professor- could easily be seen as “too academic” or “not relatable.”
Likely to beat Trump? No. This is a time of soundbites and short attention-spans. Many would simply tune out when she gives an answer longer than 15 seconds. Then Donald Trump would lob some childish insult in 3 seconds, and this is what would stick in people’s minds.
Strengths: Senator Booker is likeable, engaging and probably this field’s best orator. It doesn’t hurt that he ran back into a burning building to rescue someone trapped by the flames. It especially doesn’t hurt that Booker has a track-record of supporting the working-class.
Drawbacks: By politicians’ standards, Booker is very young (49), and some have called him a “corporate Democrat,” as in too close to big business.
Likely to beat Trump? Yes. While Hillary Clinton’s loss was in part due to “Corporate Democrat” criticism, that was at a point when Trump was a joke. Today, the left will almost certainly be willing to overlook that label. The New Jersey senator poses a threat in enough battleground states to pose a threat to Donald Trump. Further, Cory Booker’s optimism and oratorical skills would strike a pleasant, inspiring change after years of Trump’s fire-and-brimstone…bigly.