It is 2019, and the race for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election is already in full swing. Here, in no particular order, is a roundup of the candidates that have already declared their intention to run – we’ll update this list as more candidates formally announce in the coming months.
Bill de Blasio
Occupation: Mayor of New York City
Campaign: De Blasio entered the presidential race after a chaotic rally at Trump Tower in New York on May 13.
Pros: De Blasio has one major thing going for him: his febrile relationship with the New York press corps. The city’s media roundly mocked him for his rally at Trump Tower, but it could also be read as a sign that, whatever errors his campaign makes, he will remain in the headlines with more regularity than some of his rival can guarantee – and as Trump showed in 2016, in some ways all publicity is good publicity. And he has a good policy platform: universal pre-K education and increasing the minimum wage, among others, form the basis for his manifesto.
Cons: De Blasio is not the most popular mayor New York has ever had: one recent poll showed that an astonishing 76 per cent of New Yorkers think he should not run for president. He has also faced negative headlines for things like using the mayoral motorcade to travel a couple of blocks from the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, to the nearby YMCA gym. And he once killed a groundhog by dropping it on the floor.
Occupation: Author, activist and lecturer
Campaign: Williamson officially launched her campaign at an event in Los Angeles on January 29.
Pros: An unorthodox candidate even in a field which includes Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, Williamson is an author whose books include the New York Times bestselling Healing the Soul of America, which aims to “transform the American political consciousness and encourage powerful citizen involvement to heal our society.” She has a public profile through regular appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show and others, and she is a staunch advocate for sufferers of HIV/AIDS, founding several non-profit groups including Project Angel Food, which delivers meals to more than 12,000 of sufferers of long-terms illness every week. According to New York magazine she is “by any measure the most rigorously progressive candidate in the field,” with policies that go far beyond even the medicare-for-all health proposals and Green New Deal ideology of candidates like Bernie Sanders.
Cons: Perhaps slightly unfairly, Williamson is seen as “sort of a New Age accessory to Oprah Winfrey,” as New York magazine described the criticism. She has run for political office once before, a failed bid for a California congressional seat. And she may struggle to break through outside of California in a field with so many strong personalities with big public profiles.
Occupation: Governor of Montana
Campaign: Bullock announced his campaign on May 14, 2019.
Pros: For a long-shot campaign, Bullock has shown surprisingly robust fundraising numbers, raising $1m in the first day after announcing his run, his campaign said. Much of that might be from the Hollywod A-listers who support him, a star-studded list that includes Jeff Bridges and Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Cons: Democrats are very keen for Bullock to run – but not for president. Many senior party figures are pleading with the popular Montana governor to run for the Senate instead, where they say he would have an excellent chance to unseat the Republican incumbent and help the Democrats re-take the upper chamber.
Occupation: Former senator and former vice-president
Campaign: After months of speculation, Biden formally announced his campaign on April 25
Pros: After eight years as his vice-president, Biden luxuriates in the powerful nostalgic glow of liberals pining for the Obama presidency. He was an effective and well-liked veep, with a no-nonsense conversational rhetorical style that was a neat foil for the more soaring oratory of Obama. He has solid blue-collar credentials and is also comfortably top of the primary polling, and has been since the beginning of the race – even though he waited until long after most of his competitors to announce. He is an oldschool politician – perhaps, critics might argue, a little too oldschool – but there is no denying his folksy charm and the depth of his empathy.
Cons: Even before he announced, Biden has been dogged by accusations that he can be a little too tactile with people, especially women, in a way that makes some people uncomfortable. He has not dealt with the accusation perfectly, either, offering a sort of non-apology apology in a bizarre home video he released on Twitter. He also has some awkward history dating back to his time as a senator, including his role in the Anita Hill hearings. He apologised to Hill – on the day he announced – but that, too, was a little unsatisfying. Still, none of these seem to have done much to dent his polling numbers; only Bernie Sanders is anywhere near him in terms of the current state of the race.
Occupation: Former US congressman for Texas’s 16th District
Campaign: O’Rourke formally announced his campaign in a video on 14 March.
Pros: Though he lost his 2018 Senate bid to topple former GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, O’Rourke came close enough to win nationwide fame – almost winning a state-wide election in Texas against a big-name incumbent is a big achievement. O’Rourke gives off an almost Kennedy-ish vibe – he’s handsome, energetic, and inspiring – and has an authentic style. He is undeniably cool. In an improvised moment on his first campaign event in Iowa the day he announced his intention to run, he climbed on top of the restaurant countertop to speak. He also understands the internet: he first came to internet fame live-tweeting a 2017 road-trip from Texas to DC with Republican congressman Will Hurd in 2017, and while live-streaming a dentist appointment on Instagram was a strange move, it went solidly viral while also making a valid point.
Cons: Running against Ted Cruz is one thing, but running in a field which already includes several other movement-driven progressives, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, is quite another, and O’Rourke’s momentum may falter. And he used to play in a punk band – which could go either way; supporters will think he’s cool, but it might make others cringe. For Trump, too, it might be al too easy to brand O’Rourke a loser after his failure to make it over the line against Cruz in 2018 – regardless of how much an achievement it was to have got as close as he did.
Occupation: US senator for Vermont
Campaign: Sanders officially launched his campaign at a rally in Brooklyn on 2 March.
Pros: While Bernie is not favoured by the pundit class after his loss in 2016, the numbers don’t lie: Sanders is (along with former vice president Joe Biden) the frontrunner in almost every poll of likely candidates. His influence on the ideas that will feature in this campaign is undeniable: almost his entire slate of policies, from medicare-for-all to raising taxes on the wealthiest, have moved from the radical fringes four years ago to the mainstream today, to the point where they are core promises for almost every one of the Democratic candidates running today. Whatever happens, Sanders has moved the Overton Window for Democratic discourse to an absolutely stunning degree, and is responsible for almost single-handedly detoxifying the concept of socialism in American politics, at least on the Democratic side. And he is a monster fundraiser: in just over 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, he raised a stunning $5.9m in small donations from almost 225,000 supporters, smashing all previous records.
Cons: Influential though he has been, many think that Bernie should make room for one of the younger generation to have a shot at the White House. Sanders would be almost 80 when he is sworn in as president. Many think that this election is not the right one in which to replace America’s oldest president with another, even older man. Some in the Democratic Party wish that he would play more of a role of party grandee than get back in the race. There are some who are especially sore at Sanders as they see him as undermining Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016; the Democratic primary fight between the two got bitter at times, and many of his supporters – in what the Clinton camp saw as pique – ended up supporting Trump after Sanders finally dropped out of the race. The phenomenon of the “Bernie Bro” among his supporters is often problematic; they can be rabid in support of their leader, and there is an undeniably toxic streak in the behaviour of his more active online fans. And the unapologetic way he describes his socialist beliefs makes it easy for Trump to paint him as a radical – in fact, such attacks from Trump have already started.
Occupation: former governor of Colorado
Campaign: Hickenlooper declared his candidacy on Good Morning America on 4 March.
Pros: A former geologist and brewery owner before he went into politics, Hickenlooper describes himself as an “extreme moderate.” What he means by that is that he is socially progressive but pro-business, positioning himself as a centrist and bridge-builder in a race where many candidates have tacked hard to the left after Bernie Sanders’ surprise success in 2016 and the victory of candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 midterms. He told Good Morning America that he thought the nation was in a “crisis of division” and that he was “the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done.” He is especially good on gun control: as mayor of Denver for the Columbine school shooting and then as governor for the Aurora theatre shooting, he signed state legislation for universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines.
Cons: Being a moderate might also hamper him. Hickenlooper is well-liked in Colorado, but there is a feeling in the Democratic electorate that now is the time for big ideas, not compromise, and that beating Trump demands a full-throated progressive. As he is not one of the big names in the race, he might find that even an “extreme” moderate position will struggle to break through the noise.
Occupation: governor of Washington state
Campaign: Inslee announced his candidacy for president in a video released on 1 March.
Pros: Inslee is the first presidential contender to make combatting climate change the core message of his campaign. “We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change – and we’re the last that can do something about it,” he says in his launch video. He has already got stuck in with the president on the issue, calling Trump’s claims about wind energy “moronic.” He has a solid progressive record: as governor of Washington, he raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and helped pass legislation mandating paid family leave. And he has become a high-profile opponent of Trump, including suing the president over the Muslim ban. His fundraising, too, has been surprisingly healthy: on March 5 he announced that his campaign had raised more than $1m in its first week – not Bernie money, but a pretty decent start.
Cons: Inslee is not as well-known a name as some of the others on this list. A poll of possible contenders in February placed him right at the bottom of the list – with zero per cent support among primary voters. But nonetheless, putting climate change front and centre of his campaign could be a smart move to get noticed – and if he manages to move the issue to the forefront of the 2020 campaign, even if he fails to make headway himself, that will be an admirable achievement.
Occupation: US senator for Minnesota
Campaign: Klobuchar formally announced her campaign for president in the teeth of a Minnesota snowstorm on 10 February.
Pros: Klobuchar, like Warren, gets under the president’s skin. In an – even for him – unbelievably stupid tweet, Trump struck out at Klobuchar for talking about climate change while announcing her candidacy in a snowstorm. “Amy Klobuchar announced that she is running for President, talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!”, the president wrote, once again confusing climate for weather. Like Harris and Booker, Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, has been excellent in Senate committee hearings; most memorable was the extraordinary exchange with supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, where she asked him if he’d ever drunk too much beer. “I don’t know. Have you?” Kavanaugh shot back to Klobuchar – who doesn’t drink. It was an infantile, rattled response to an elegant line of questioning.
Cons: According to the HuffPost, Klobuchar’s staff have reported that she berates them to the extent that it creates a hostile work environment – leading to at least three people to withdraw from consideration to lead her presidential campaign. “Although some staffers grew inured to her constant put-downs … others found it grinding and demoralizing,” it reported. “Adding to the humiliation, Klobuchar often cc’d large groups of staffers who weren’t working on the topic at hand, giving the emails the effect of a public flogging.” Answering the allegations, Klobuchar said “Yes, I can be tough, and yes I can push people … I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work for me, but I have high expectations for this country.”
Occupation: US senator for New Jersey
Campaign: Booker announced he would run for president on Twitter on 1 February.
Pros: Booker, the first black senator from New Jersey, has long been linked with presidential potential. His CV is impeccable: educated at Stanford, Oxford (on a Rhodes scholarship), and Yale, he then set up a non-profit legal aid organisation in Newark before successfully running for mayor. He has had a successful career in the Senate, too – he and Kamala Harris have formed a fearsome pair in the powerful Judiciary Committee. And he is a bona fide hero: he once entered a burning building and saved a woman from the flames.
Cons: This isn’t really a con per se, but as the BBC points out, Booker would be the first single (or at least, unmarried) president since Grover Cleveland, which might give his opponents ammunition against him. But come on, people, it’s 2019 – not everyone has to be married to be a person these days. And he’d be running against Donald Trump. But as Tom Moran of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, a long-time watcher of Booker, points out, he is also one of the highest recipients of big-money donations from Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry in the Senate, which will be a useful vulnerability for his more hardcore radical opponents to exploit.
Occupation: US senator for Massachusetts
Campaign: Warren was the first major candidate to officially launch her campaign, formally announcing her exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve 2018.
Pros: Long considered the nominal frontrunner, Warren was the focus of intense speculation during the 2016 Democratic primaries. A professor of law who taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard, her political fortunes began to rise during the 2008 financial crisis, when she emerged as a leading thinker on economics, especially focused on the financial misconduct by the big banks that led to the credit crunch, and was an early advocate of the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Her star continued to rise when she gave a barnstorming primetime speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and she went on to beat Republican incumbent Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race that November. As Robert Kuttner wrote for this magazine last year, Warren “would embody and energise the unmistakable progressive shift in the Democratic Party, as well as giving it cogent definition.”
Cons: While she has shown herself adept at getting under Trump’s skin, he has also managed to get under hers. In a line of attack that, even for this president’s standards, has been spectacularly racist, Trump has nicknamed her “Pocahontas” – a reference to Warren listing her racial background as Native American on a Harvard diversity form.
Warren has said previously that as a child she had been told she had Native American ancestry, and submitted to a DNA test when challenged to do so by the president in 2018. While the test did suggest a small Native American ancestry, the use of the test was criticised by the Cherokee Nation as “inappropriate”, and critics have said that playing along with Trump’s childish games represented a failure of judgment.
Occupation: US senator for California
Campaign: Harris announced her entry into the presidential race on Twitter on 21 January.
Pros: A former prosecutor and attorney-general of California, Harris is eminently qualified for the job – and she has developed a prosecutorial style in the Senate which tends to put her front and centre of many hearings, which has given her the opportunity to develop a wide public profile. Harris also has the most engagement on social media of any of the prospective Democratic candidates, according to a recent study by Axios. Among Democrats, only Barack Obama and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who, at 29, will be too young to meet the minimum age-requirement for the presidency in 2020) have more Twitter engagement.
Cons: Though her position today on mass incarceration, single-payer healthcare, marijuana legalisation and other issues place her on the left-ish end of the Democratic Party spectrum, her prosecutorial past might come back to haunt her.
As Vox explains: “A close examination of Harris’s record shows it’s filled with contradictions. She pushed for programmes that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, but also fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent. She refused to pursue the death penalty against a man who killed a police officer, but also defended California’s death penalty system in court.” Politically, she may also suffer from being from California, a state which Republicans strove to turn into shorthand for radical progressivism during the midterm elections.
Occupation: Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Campaign: Castro formally launched his campaign on 21 January.
Pros: The youngest member of the Obama cabinet, former San Antonio mayor Castro was the rising star of Texas politics… until Beto O’Rourke came along.
But he still has excellent credentials, and the support of his twin brother, congressman Joaquin. His speech to the 2012 Democratic National Convention – he was the first person of Hispanic origin to give a DNC keynote address – drew comparisons with the speech that launched Barack Obama’s national political profile eight years earlier. And he’s one of those leading the field in rejecting money from super PACs.
Cons: Castro, having been out of government for two years, lacks the sheer star power these days that fellow Texan O’Rourke – who has not formally announced his candidacy but who everyone assumes is running – can boast.
Occupation: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
Campaign: Buttigieg formally launched his exploratory committee on 23 January.
Pros: Buttigieg, who was named “mayor of the year” in 2013 by GovFresh.com, has enjoyed considerable national buzz considering his relatively minor political position. In 2016, the New York Times wrote that “if you went into some laboratory to concoct a perfect Democratic candidate, you’d be hard pressed to improve on Pete Buttigieg.”
A Rhodes scholar and Navy Reservist who served seven months in Afghanistan, Buttigieg came out as gay in an op-ed in 2015 and then went on to win re-election with 80 per cent of the vote – no small feat in Indiana, the pretty conservative state of which Mike Pence was governor. A self-described millennial, he emerged as a popular dark horse candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2017, further raising his national profile.
Cons: Despite punching above his weight in terms of national name recognition, it would still be a near-unprecedented leap to go from mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest town straight to the presidency.
Occupation: US representative from Hawaii
Campaign: Gabbard announced she was running for president on 11 January 2019.
Pros: When she was elected in 2012 Gabbard became the first Hindu and the first American Samoan to vote in Congress. She is an Iraq war veteran and supports Medicare-for-all, and is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. When she was running for r-eelection to Congress she won the support of Bernie Sanders – whom she endorsed in 2016 – as well as the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood, among other progressive groups. And as 538.com points out, she is a charismatic speaker.
Cons: Gabbard has a slightly chequered history in terms of her relationship with progressivism. She went on an extremely controversial trip to Syria, where she met with president Bashar al-Assad, in 2017 – a trip she made without the permission of the party leadership, according to reports – and characterised the rebels, which the US government supports, as “terrorists”. In 2015 she was one of few Democrats who voted for restrictions on refugees entering the US from Syria and Iraq; she has also voted against gun control legislation.
She was also one of few Democrats in Congress to meet with Trump after his election in 2016. She also grew up in a Hare Krishna sect which condemns homosexuality, and as a state representative referred to gay rights activists as “extremists” – and though she has since apologised and recanted her statements her position on gay rights remains a little murky.
Occupation: US senator for New York
Campaign: Gillibrand announced her candidacy for president on 15 January on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Pros: Gillibrand is a formidable candidate who has emerged as a key opponent of the administration, with the most anti-Trump voting record of any US senator. Jenn Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s former communications director – Gillibrand filled the senate seat once occupied by Clinton – described her to the Guardian as “fierce and fearless”. She has made campaigning against sexual assault the cornerstone of her political life, and has become known as “the #metoo senator”; she was the first senator to call for the resignation of her Democratic colleague Al Franken when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced about him.
Cons: Like many on this list, Gillibrand may suffer from the fact that her political positions have evolved over the years, from the centre and even the centre-right toward the modern progressive consensus favoured by the party base in the post-Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez age. Originally elected to Congress to represent a conservative district in upstate New York, in her early career she opposed “amnesty” for illegal immigrants who had been living in the country a long time; she also used to have an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association for her opposition to gun control legislation, though that has since been downgraded, according to the Guardian.
Occupation: Former US representative from Maryland
Campaign: Delaney announced his candidacy fabulously early, in an op-ed in the Washington Post in July 2017.
Pros: He’s made good noises about fixing America’s ailing democratic institutions; in 2017 he introduced legislation to end partisan gerrymandering and make Election Day a federal holiday.
Cons: Despite announcing his candidacy early, Delaney has struggled to break through into the wider national consciousness, and rarely if ever shows up in polling.
Occupation: Former West Virginia state senator
Campaign: Ojeda announced his candidacy for president in November 2018, after losing his race to become Democratic congressman for West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district.
Pros: A former major in the US Army, Ojeda is… just kinda great. A gift to viral video, a visible straight-talker who gives little ground to the tedious niceties of political discourse, he is in many ways an antidote to the Trump era. He is pro marijuana legalisation, and has been open about the fact that, while he voted for Trump in the last election – and, in fact, has never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate – he now says that Trump has “not done shit”. He’s a straight-talker.
Cons: Well, he voted for Trump in 2016. But he has been open about this, and may be able to turn that to his advantage in terms of reaching out to the kind of forgotten voters to whom Trump appealed. He remains quite right-wing on many issues on which the Democratic base are far to the left; he is anti-abortion except in cases of rape, and is a vocal gun rights activist. He is ultimately a long-shot candidate, but likely to be an entertaining one to watch.
Dropped out: Ojeda became the first candidate to drop out of the race on January 25, telling The Intercept “I don’t want to see people send money to a campaign that’s probably not going to get off the ground.”
Campaign: Yang filed his candidacy for president with the Federal Election Commission on 6 November, 2017.
Pros: The core appeal of Yang’s presidential campaign is a simple one: he wants to give every America $1000 a month. That’s not a silly idea: Yang believes that as self-driving cars and other automation technologies come on-stream, America (and the world) will begin to face a crisis of employment – after all, the two biggest jobs held in the US are truck driver and taxi driver. He believes the answer lies in a policy called Universal Basic Income, an idea gaining more and more traction in progressive and techno-futurist circles, endorsed by figures as diverse as Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders.
Cons: Universal Basic Income’s moment may not have come yet, and critics say that the policy would be (obviously) extremely expensive to implement, costing an estimated $2 trillion per year – as the Independent points out, that’s half the entire federal budget. Ultimately, he is running not so much to win but to introduce his ideas into the public consciousness, which may be no bad thing in the long run.