As 2020 dawns, the dynamics of Democratic presidential primary have come into focus, as a struggle between restoration and revolution.
Joe Biden is pitching himself as the one politician who can dislodge Trump, return sanity to the White House and bring back a sense of common purpose to the country. Senator Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has advanced a sweeping vision for counteracting not just the Trump misadventure, but three decades of economic injustice — with plans for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and free public college, paid for with new taxes on the wealthiest.
The contest is close and getting closer. Buoyed by support from Democrats of color and the party’s establishment, Biden holds a significant edge in national polls. But the uncompromising Sanders, flush with cash and grassroots volunteers, has surged to a lead in Iowa polling, opening the path to an upset.
Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are still in the mix, grinding to keep pace with the frontrunners. But with the first-in-the-nation caucus looming in early February, the remaining contenders are running out of time to make their moves — or, in fact, heading to the exits, like Julián Castro, Marianne Williamson, and Cory Booker have in the new year. Below we rank the 12 Democrats now running for the nomination in 2020.
1) Joe Biden
The former vice president offers America a seductive promise — a reboot from the Trump catastrophe and a return to the Obama era. And rather than risk falling in love with a progressive New Hope, many rank-and-file Democrats, particularly older voters and voters of color, seem happy to fall in line behind Biden, 77. At his Philadelphia kickoff rally last May, Biden touted his record as a Mr. Fixit: “I know how to make government work.” But Biden’s nostalgia for bipartisanship strikes many in the party faithful as naive — and his recent tease that he could select a Republican running mate risks alienating the progressive base. Still, Biden has steadied his campaign, including by raising $22.7 million in the fourth quarter.
Signature Policy: Biden has peerless foreign policy credentials and isn’t afraid to tout them: “I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” he’s said. “I know as much about American foreign policy [as] anyone around, including even maybe Kissinger.” (Read more about Biden’s platform.)
Signature Apology: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden told reporters after being rebuked by multiple women for his space-invader style of politics. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. So that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sakes.”
RS Coverage: Joe Biden Is Not Helping
2) Bernie Sanders
The 78-year-old Sanders is on a roll — riding a potent combination of people-power and cash. The campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field, and he’s built his campaign with the help of more than 1.6 million individual donors, raising a whopping $34.5 million in the fourth quarter. Sanders does not have the left lane to himself as he did in 2016 — many candidates have embraced his once-distinctive proposals. But he is seen as the champion of Medicare for All, and one-upped Warren’s income-based college debt relief by calling for a complete wipeout of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt. He recently received a clean bill of health after an October heart attack.
Signature Policy: Sanders’ 2016 campaign set the table for 2020. He gets full credit for mainstreaming a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college. Sanders recently introduced the “For the 99.8% Act” that would sharply increase the estate tax, including imposing a 77 percent tax on estates in excess of $1 billion, raising an estimated $315 billion over a decade. (Read more about Sanders’ platform.)
Signature Apology: Sanders apologized to former female staffers for a 2016 campaign marred by pay disparities and allegations of sexual harassment by male staffers, promising to “do better” moving forward.
RS Coverage: On the Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0
3) Elizabeth Warren
Warren soared to the top of the 2020 Democratic field on the strength of bold, progressive policies. But her detailed proposal to implement Medicare for All without raising income or payroll taxes did not pay off politically, coinciding with a significant polling slump. Warren, 70, is targeting Democrats who seek progressive purity from their 2020 champion, including in fundraising. Relying on grassroots donors, Warren raised $21.2 million in the fourth quarter.
Signature Policy: Warren wants to address American inequality with a wealth tax, imposed annually on “ultra-millionaires,” to pay for benefits, including universal free or low-cost childcare, for “yacht-less Americans.” Fortunes greater than $50 million would be taxed at 2 percent. Billionaires would pay 3 percent. The proposal has greater than 60 percent support and would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years. (Read more about Warren’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Warren has apologized for conflating “family stories” about Cherokee heritage with native identity. At the Native American Presidential Forum in August, Warren underscored her regret. “Like anyone who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” she said. “I am sorry for the harm I have caused.”
RS Coverage: Elizabeth Warren: The Rolling Stone Interview
4) Pete Buttigieg
A strong contender in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg continues to be held back by what we’ll politely call a lack of resonance with voters of color — suggesting he could hit a wall in racially-diverse early-voting states like Nevada and particularly South Carolina. The 37-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is making a play for the party’s moderate wing, with policies like Medicare for All (Who Want It) and free public college (for families earning less than $100,000). Steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits, and his is fundraising is prodigious, including nearly $25 million in the fourth quarter.
Signature Policy: “The electoral college needs to go.” (Read more about Buttigieg’s platform.)
Signature Apology: After news reports revealed that Buttigieg declared “all lives matter” in 2015, Mayor Pete distanced himself from the comment, insisting he “did not understand” at the time that the slogan was “being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”
RS Coverage: Is America Ready for Mayor Pete?; Pete Buttigieg’s True Privilege
5) Andrew Yang
The most unlikely grassroots sensation of 2020, Yang is a businessman who founded Venture for America, working to revitalize struggling urban centers by training and fostering entrepreneurs in cities like Detroit and New Orleans. Promising to address the economic dislocation created by automation in the workforce, Yang has built a devoted following and outlasted many “serious” contenders. He’s also raising serious cash: $16.5 million in the fourth quarter.
Signature Policy: The 44-year-old is running on a platform of universal basic income. Yang spoke at length to Rolling Stone about his “Freedom Dividend,” insisting: “You want to universalize it so it’s seen as a true right of citizenship.” (Read more about Yang’s platform.)
Signature Non-Apology: Yang has faced criticism for leaning into racial stereotypes in his campaign, particularly contrasting himself to Donald Trump as “an Asian man who likes math.” Yang has dismissed such concerns: “I don’t see any reason to dramatically change anything I’ve been doing to date,” he’s said, adding: “the vast majority of the Asian Americans I encounter seem very excited about my campaign.”
RS Coverage: “I Came From the Internet”: Inside Andrew Yang’s Wild Ride
6) Amy Klobuchar
The Minnesota senator’s understated persona stands in contrast to Trump’s bluster and bravado, winning her plaudits from conservatives including Washington Post columnist George Will and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. With an impressive $11.4 fourth quarter fundraising haul, Klobuchar, 59, is aiming to make a splash in Minnesota-adjacent Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucus.
Signature Policy: Known for a focus on reform of revolution, Klobuchar has emphasized her record of enacting practical laws that have reduced the backlog of rape kits and banned lead in toys. If Biden continues to decline, Klobuchar seems likely to corral some of his moderate-minded voters. (Read more about Klobuchar’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Klobuchar has been dogged by reports she abused and demeaned staff, including throwing a binder that “accidentally” hit a staffer. The senator has admitted she has pushed employees “too hard” at times and can be a “tough boss,” but added she just wants to hold her employees — and the country — to high standards.
RS Coverage: Amy Klobuchar on Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Road Ahead
7) Michael Bloomberg
The 77-year-old former mayor of New York launched his campaign in late November, shocking and awing America with a wildly expensive national ad campaign that branded him as a: “Jobs Creator. Leader. Problem Solver.” Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to imagine a centrist former Republican who backed George W. Bush in 2004, embraced racist police tactics as mayor, and remains skeptical of progressive economic policy winning the nomination of today’s left-leaning Democratic Party. Despite spending $100 million on his national launch, Bloomberg has gained only a handful of points in the polls.
Signature Policy: Bloomberg is fully in step with today’s Democrats on gun regulation. He has used some of his massive fortune to fund groups including “Everytown for Gun Safety,” which advocates for sensible gun regulations in a country that desperately needs them.
Signature Apology: When he decided not to run in the spring, Bloomberg mocked Joe Biden for launching with an “apology tour.” Bloomberg has now embarked on one of his own. A staffer apologized for sexist and demeaning jokes published in a 1990 pamphlet, Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg, saying, “Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.” And Bloomberg recently visited a black church to apologize for his embrace of stop-and-frisk policing: “I can’t change history, however today I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong and I’m sorry.”
RS Coverage: Enter Mike Bloomberg, Exit Black Voters
8) Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard, 38, is the first Hindu to serve in the House of Representatives. She’s pitching herself to progressives (including with a bill to legalize marijuana) and to pacifists: The Iraq veteran is running against endless wars. Gabbard has shown poise on the debate stage and gained an enthusiastic grassroots following. But there’s something off. Her campaign continues to get an odd signal boost from Russian propaganda networks and the Putin government itself. In October, Hillary Clinton accused her of being a Russian “asset.” Gabbard denounced Clinton as “queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party.” Gabbard continued her peculiar run of form by voting “present” on Trump’s articles of impeachment. She raised $3.4 million in the fourth quarter.
Signature Policy: Gabbard has staked her campaign in opposition to wars of regime change. But her foreign policy credentials are unsettling: She visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2017 on a secret “fact-finding” mission and dismissed his opposition — across the board — as terrorists. (Read more about Gabbard’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Into adulthood, Gabbard espoused virulently anti-LGBTQ views. She released an apology video saying, “In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong.”
RS Coverage: Who’s Afraid of Tulsi Gabbard?
9) Tom Steyer
The progressive billionaire best known for leading an impeachment crusade against President Trump threw his hat into the crowded 2020 ring on July 9th, promising to betray his class and wrest political power from America’s moneyed interests. Steyer has no shortage of cash to help overcome his late start, spending nearly $48 million on his national introduction.
Signature Policy: Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign has signed up more than 8 million Americans seeking Trump’s constitutional removal. (This list could provide Steyer with a formidable grassroots base.) “It’s important to stand up for the American democracy,” Steyer told Rolling Stone about the fight for impeachment. “We believe fighting against a reckless and lawless president is not something that will turn off voters.”
RS Coverage: A Conversation With Tom Steyer, the Liberal Billionaire Bankrolling Trump’s Impeachment
10) Michael Bennet
The 54-year-old senator is campaigning for a return to integrity in government and a revival of American economic mobility. Bennet positions himself as “pragmatic idealist” and has been calling for Democrats to temper ideas like packing the Supreme Court. He has been lauded by “Morning” Joe Scarborough for combining “an Ivy League pedigree” with “a common touch,” and for his “commitment to key centrist fiscal policies.” Bennett raised a respectable $2.1 million in the third quarter.
Signature Policy: Medicare X. With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bennet is proposing legislation to create, and slowly roll out, a public option for the Obamacare state marketplaces, with the same doctor and hospital networks as Medicare, and similar reimbursement rates. Bennet has called Medicare for All, which would disrupt existing health care plans for millions, “a bad opening offer.” (Read more about Bennet’s platform.)
RS Coverage: The 21st Democratic Presidential Candidate Has Entered the 2020 Race — Make It Stop
11) Deval Patrick
Deval Patrick, a former two-term governor and Bain Capital partner, declared his candidacy in mid-November. The 63 year old is a friend of former President Obama and seems to be casting himself as the keeper of the Yes-We-Can flame. Patrick has an appealing life story, rising from a tenement on Chicago’s South Side to become Massachusetts’ chief executive, and he may find fans in neighboring New Hampshire. But his late-entry remains puzzling. In polls, nearly three quarters of Democratic voters said they liked their choices, and Patrick already missed the deadlines to appear on the ballot in Arkansas and Alabama, squandering a shot at those delegates.
Signature Policy: Patrick promises to root out “hyper-partisan gerrymandering where the party picks the voter rather than the other way around.”
RS Coverage: Deval Patrick’s Bain Capital Bio Has Vanished. Here’s What it Said
12) John Delaney
The former Maryland Congressman, 56, has been running for president since July 2017, preaching a relentlessly bipartisan message of national unity. An entrepreneur in high finance, Delaney launched two companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Delaney has blown more than $24 million on this bid and seems determined to gut it out through New Hampshire if not beyond.
Signature Policy: Delaney is promoting a national youth service program to bring the country together. (Read more about Delaney’s platform.)
RS Coverage: John Delaney Says He’s “Skating to Where the Puck Is Going”
2020 Campaign Graveyard
Here lie the presidential ambitions of fallen Democratic contenders:
Dropped Out: 1/13/20, after 347 days
Parting Words: “It is my faith in us, my faith in us together as a nation, that we share common pain and common problems that can only be solved with a common purpose and a sense of common cause.”
Last Wish: “We may have challenges right now in our nation, but together we will rise.”
Dropped Out: 1/10/20, after 346 days
Parting Words: “A politics of conscience is still yet possible. And yes….love will prevail.”
Last Wish: “These are not times to despair; they are simply times to rise up.”
Dropped Out: 1/2/20, after 355 days
Parting Words: “I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. I’m going to keep fighting for an America where everyone counts—I hope you’ll join me in that fight.”
Last Wish: “I’m not done fighting. I’ll keep working towards a nation where everyone counts, a nation where everyone can get a good job, good health care and a decent place to live.”
Endorsement: Elizabeth Warren
Dropped Out: 12/3/19, after 316 days
Parting Words: “Our campaign has been about fighting for people whose voices that have not been heard or too often ignored. We will keep up that fight.”
Last Wish: That her supporters “keep fighting for the America we believe in, an America free of injustice.”
Dropped Out: 12/2/19, after 202 days
Parting Words: “It has become clear that in this moment, I won’t be able to break through to the top tier of this still-crowded field of candidates.”
Last Wish: That “we confront our greatest challenges head-on and lead the way in the community of nations.”
Dropped Out: 12/1/19, after 62 days
Parting Words: “Without the privilege of national press, it is unfair to ask others to husband their resolve and sacrifice resources any longer.”
Last Wish: For a president to repair our tattered social fabric: “It can be repaired by someone who can lead, and therefore unite, America.”
Dropped Out: 11/20/19, after 238 days
Parting Words: “Although the campaign goal of becoming President was not realized at this moment… we have impacted this 2020 campaign… by challenging the status quo and not waiting our turn to make difference and to spark change.”
Last Wish: That we all “take a stand to ensure the American Dream that attracted my parents and so many others to this great nation can still be achieved.”
Dropped Out: 11/01/19, after 232 days
Parting Words: “We laid bare the cost and consequence of Donald Trump: the rise in hate crimes, the terror attack in El Paso, the perversion of the Constitution, the diminished standing of the United States around the world.”
Last Wish: “Let us continue to fearlessly champion the issues and causes that brought us together. Whether it is ending the epidemic of gun violence or dismantling structural racism or successfully confronting climate change before it is too late.”
Dropped Out: 10/24/19, after 200 days
Parting Words: “I got into this race in April to really give voice to the forgotten people of our country. I look forward to continuing that fight.”
Last Wish: Ryan is seeking House reelection in Ohio so that the voice of “forgotten communities that have been left behind by globalization and automation” will not be “stifled.”
Endorsement: Joe Biden
Bill de Blasio
Dropped Out: 9/20/19, after 128 days
Parting Words: “I feel like I’ve contributed all I can to this primary election. It’s clearly not my time.”
Last Wish: “Democrats must return to our roots as a party focused on bold solutions that speak to the concerns of working people.”
Dropped Out: 8/28/19, after 225 days
Parting Words: “We led the fights we can’t afford to lose for women and families — and moved the entire field along with us.”
Last Wish: “We have to defeat President Trump, flip the Senate and elect women up and down the ballot.”
Dropped Out: 8/23/19, after 124 days
Parting Words: “I will be campaigning my ass off for whoever wins our nomination in 2020.”
Last Wish: That Americans embrace hope: “Hope is what gets us, as individuals, through the darkest of times. And it is what will lead our country through the darkest of times as well.”
Dropped Out: 8/21/19, after 174 days
Parting Words: “It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball. I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race.”
Last Wish: That the climate crisis “must be the top priority for our next president.” And a third term as governor in the other Washington: “I want to continue to stand with you in opposing Donald Trump and rejecting his hurtful and divisive agenda, while strengthening and enhancing Washington state’s role as a progressive beacon for the nation.”
Dropped Out: 8/15/19, after 164 days
Parting Words: “I ran for president because this country is being ripped apart, by politics and partisan games, while our biggest problems go unsolved.”
Last Wish: A different national office. “I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. I intend to give that some serious thought.” (Hickenlooper announced his Senate bid less than a week later.)
Dropped Out: 8/6/19, after 126 days
Parting Words: “I am proud and honored to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for the presidency of the United States.”
Last Wish: That Americans vote for democratic socialism over “Republican socialism, which benefits the one percent and leads us to a constant state of war.”
Dropped Out: 7/8/19, after 91 days
Parting Words: “Weaknesses will be flushed out and a leader will emerge.”
Last Wish: That the eventual nominee supports an assault-weapons ban and buyback.
Dropped Out: 1/25/19, after 79 days
Parting Words: “When I was a kid in grade school, my teachers always said that anyone could grow up and become president. Unfortunately, what I’m starting to realize is that unless you have wealth, influence, and power, it’s not gonna happen.”
Last Wish: “Whoever does win the presidency needs to be somebody who is willing to check Big Pharma.”
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