Ranking the Democratic Presidential Contenders is tough because there are so many of them. However, a few faces stand out from the crazy crowd.
The 2020 candidates are packing the Democratic presidential field for the same reason Republicans crowded their 2016 primary. Democrats smell blood in the water, specifically the blood of President Donald J. Trump (R-New York).
Like Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) in 2016, Trump is a weak, controversial, and unpopular candidate. Moreover; like Clinton, Trump emboldens and energizes the other side’s base.
Here come the long shots
The Democrats will have a tough time in 2020 because they have no clear front runner. However, Republicans won in 2016 even though they had no obvious front runner before the primaries.
Additionally, the Grand Old Party (GOP) won with an unpopular long-shot candidate in 2016. Consequently, many Democrats think can repeat that pattern in 2020.
Those potential long shots will have to get through the meat grinder known as the Democratic primaries first. All indications are the Democratic primary battle will be tough, nasty, and full of surprises; like the Republican bloodbath in 2016.
There are advantages to a brutal primary battle. First, winning a primary proves a candidate is a vote getter and tough enough for the big race in the Fall. Second, primary winners get experience campaigning and winning. Finally, primary winners are familiar to voters and the media.
Meet the Democratic Presidential Contenders
Here are the strongest and most popular Democratic Presidential contenders in the race:
US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)
I consider the Bernie the strongest and most popular contender. Sanders is popular; he has lots of passionate supporters and gets lots of media attention.
Nationwide, Sanders was at 29% in the April Emerson Poll and 25% in the May Emerson Poll. However, Sanders is weak in some parts of the country. For instance, former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) led Sanders by 37% to 21% in South Carolina in March, Emerson estimates. Yet, Bernie beats Trump by 54% to 46% in Emerson’s hypothetical presidential poll in May.
I consider Sanders the man to beat because he has real grassroots support nationwide. No other candidate can match that, although Andrew Yang (D-New York) is gaining steam.
Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
My take is that Biden has no grassroots support, but a lot of media attention.
Biden’s only hope is to knock off Sanders and other leftists in the more conservative rural states. Currently, Biden has the support of 33%; or one-third, of likely Democratic primary voters probably because of name recognition, Emerson estimates.
However, I cannot see Biden winning any of the major states. My prediction, Biden drops out early in 2020; probably after losing New Hampshire to Sanders. Biden has one secret weapon, on the other hand, a lot of media attention. Yet I do not think that will be enough to overcome his lack of grassroots support.
Essentially, I think the establishment wants a moderate like Biden but actual voters do not. Plus the Republican experience in 2016 proves establishment support can be the kiss of death for a primary contender. Only Trump who faced almost total hostility from the establishment received any popular support.
US Senator Kamala Harris (D-California)
On paper, Harris is the strongest candidate. She’s black, she’s from California, she’s a woman, she takes popular leftwing positions, but she has establishment credentials and appeal.
However, Harris’s campaign has not caught fire. On May 10 to May 13, 2019 polling, Emerson places Harris at 10% or third place. I think we can partially blame that on Harris’s failure to leverage Social Media and the internet. Additionally, Harris’s iron lady personality could intimidate some voters.
Finally, Harris has made no efforts to differentiate herself from the pack. Unless Harris gets her act together fast, I predict Hariss could drop out before primary voting begins. Emerson had Harris at 7% nationwide in April but she rose to 10% in April.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
Like Harris, Warren has failed to catch fire with voters but she has a strong populist message. Yet Warren can not get that message to voters.
Like Harris, Warren has failed to leverage social media and grassroots support. Plus, Warren’s personality puts off a lot of voters. Note: such defects did not stop Trump from reaching the Oval Office. Tellingly, Warren was at 10% in the May Emerson Poll, up from 6% in April.
Strangely, Warren could steal Trump’s populist message. She is trying to copy Trump’s combination of economic populism, class warfare, and jingoism with A “Plan For Economic Patriotism” a terrible protectionist trade policy that reads like Team Trump wrote it.
Warren could be onto something here, columnist Michael Gerson thinks “Trump’s patriotism deficit” could be the president’s greatest weakness. Tellingly, Warren earns praise from Fox News talking head and culture critic Tucker Carlson.
Senator Warren could exploit that weakness by appealing directly to Trump voters through outlets like Fox News. Conversely, Warren appears to be too unimaginative a strategist to make that move.
Andrew Yang (D-New York)
Yang is the most Trump-like Democratic candidate. He’s an outsider businessman with no political experience who takes radical political stands.
Moreover, like Trump, Yang is proving himself to be a clever strategist who is making a brilliant use of social media. Oddly, I consider Yang to be the best strategist in the Democratic pack. Possibly, because like Trump Yang applies modern marketing and business strategies to politics.
Yang’s grassroots social media campaign is gaining strength because it is under the radar. This stealth position could give Yang an edge when old media like television; which nobody under 50 watches, focuses totally on fossils like Biden.
Plus, Yang has a blockbuster issue in the form of his Freedom Dividend basic income scheme. A basic income will have wide appeal in a dysfunctional economy full of income inequality, wage stagnation, and growing fears of technological unemployment.
Astoundingly, Yang was 3% nationwide in the April Emerson Poll but he dropped to 1% in May. If Emerson is correct, Yang was already beating or tying such nationally known political figures as US Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Governor Jay Inslee (D-Washington), and US Senator Amy Kloubacher (D-Minnesota).
If there is one dark horse candidate that could disrupt the Democratic field it is Yang because he is generating real grassroots support. Plus, Yang has wide appeal to younger voters that rivals Bernie’s. I don’t think Yang will win but he is the man to watch.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, Indiana)
This obscure figure came from nowhere to capture 9% in the April Emerson Poll. However, I see no grassroots support for Buttigieg. Notably Buttigieg dropped behind both Harris and Warren in the May Emerson poll falling from 9% to 8%.
Instead, Buttigieg is a media sensation; because he’s white, he’s gay, he’s moderate, and he looks good on TV. Notably, Buttigieg seems to take no positions and no risks. My feeling is Buttigieg is a flash in the pan who will fade fast.
In particular, they base his whole popularity on media hype rather than any grassroots appeal. The only way I can see Buttigieg getting a lot of votes is if he energizes the entire gay community behind him.
Buttigieg’s success shows other candidates could come from nowhere to disrupt the campaign. Individuals to watch include; Inslee, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), US Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) and US Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
US Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Gabbard; an old school isolationist, get a boost if Trump launches an unpopular war with Iran as his critics at The American Conservative allege.
Additionally, Gabbard, has been following Yang’s strategy of tapping lesser media outlets like The Joe Rogan Show and Tucker Carlson’s Fox News pulpit. Success is eluding Gabbard, because she was sitting at 1% in the April Emerson Poll and 2% in the May Emerson Poll. My guess is that is what comes of running for Secretary of State rather than President.
Historically, Americans pay no attention to foreign and military policy until the bombs drop. Given our peaceful world, Gabbard will have a hard time attracting attention.
Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)
The former Congressman’s campaign is already fading; but he was ahead of Harris, with 8% of the vote in the April Emerson Poll. However, the May Emerson poll places O’Rourke at 3% behind Buttigieg, Warren, and Harris.
I think O’Rourke has one thing going for him – he’s from Texas. Texans are notoriously loyal to home state candidates, which could deliver that state’s votes to him. US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) easily beat Trump in the 2016 Texas Republican primary, for instance.
No other state seems likely to break for O’Rourke, yet I predict he will stay in until the Texas primary. O’Rourke will stay in the race because he could trade Texas’s votes to the primary winner for a vice presidential nomination or a cabinet slot.
As to the 2020 Democratic nominee, your guess is as good as mine. The current field is too fragmented to make any serious predictions at this point.
Moreover, all the candidates seem to bore and confuse Democrats. Tellingly, 56% of likely Democratic primary voters told Emerson Polling they could change their candidate between now and the election.