The 2020 Field So Far

Democratic challengers flood the nation with different strategies to unseat Trump.

Andy Stec, Senior Columnist

With all the theatrics and subtleties of the Roman Senate, Democratic politicians have emerged from the forum in a struggle to fill the power vacuum left by a freshly-fallen titan. If 2016 was defined by the party machinery rallying around Caesar, then 2020 seems illustrative of the civil war that followed his death. From midwestern mayors to former Vice Presidents: twenty-some figures have either announced or seriously suggested that they’re looking to challenge Donald Trump for the resolute desk. FiveThirtyEight and ABC News published an up-to-date roster, but it is entirely possible that more will have thrown their hat into the ring by the time this article is printed. A plethora of names in the media are tossed around for those who have not made an official announcement: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bloomberg, Michael Bennet (D-CO), Stacey Abrams, Terry McAuliffe, Tim Ryan (D-OH), Howard Schultz as an Independent and Eric Swalwell (D-CA).

Most of these come from auspicious statements teasing a run, or from Washington suits circling Iowa like carrion birds in anticipation of the election’s first caucus there. Of those who have – as of the week of Feb. 17 – not officially announced yet, a few are larger contenders. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) drew comparisons to Obama and Kennedy as a young, charismatic, rising star in the party who came incredibly close to unseating Republican Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterms. Despite the loss, O’Rourke’s character kept him in the spotlight as a figure for higher office – particularly as Democrats struggle with the image of a predominantly elderly leadership.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden remains the most important undecided as of yet. He maintains a large name recognition and favorability rating in the midwest and among the white working class, and he has vocally stated in the past that he regrets not running in 2016. According to RealClearPolitics’ polling data aggregate average, Biden also polls the highest amongst the names currently in the field with an average of 27.5 percent. If there’s anyone to take the place of Hillary Clinton in their dominance of the Democratic machinery, it’s certainly Biden – and that’s reflected in the number of people who are withholding their own announcements until after his own.

The 2016 election, among other things, also cleanly split the party into wings accentuating progressive-neoliberal ideologies. With the rust belt revolt giving the previous election to Trump via electoral vote, it’s no surprise that many Democrats in the running this round are reaching out to the Midwest. They’re doing this, broadly, with one of two strategies – either by adopting the populist big-picture rhetoric that caught fire in both the Sanders and Trump camps, or by pursuing an aura of centrism and bipartisanship.

The list of those who have announced is also extensive, so we’ll focus on those current frontrunners. Biden, as previously mentioned, is at the top. His immediate competition is Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who most recently announced his candidacy and polls at an average of 16.8 percent. Sanders’ largest weak point in 2016 – and one he is aware of now – is his low vote draw from people of color, particularly blacks. Coming from the left of the progressive wing, his emphasis on economic justice falls to the largest oversight that similar leftist ideologies suffer: neglecting the fact that racial justice and economic justice are irrevocably intertwined.

Polling in third with 10.3 percent is Kamala Harris (D-CA), a former California Attorney General with her own baggage of supporting damaging housing policy and a string of wrongful convictions. Political analyst Perry Bacon Jr. noted of Harris policy positions: “[As] liberal as any candidate on non economic issues but not as liberal on economic issues as, say, Bernie Sanders — [which] echoes Hillary Clinton’s platform in 2016.”

Behind Harris is the strongest challenger to the Sanders’ campaign, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). If Sanders is a democratic socialist offering anti-capitalist critiques – Warren is a devoted Keynesian with intentions to reform capitalism to be more equitable. She harkens toward LBJ’s Great Society, and has put herself in support of economic platforms of the progressive wing. Suffering from name recognition issue, especially in comparison to Sanders, she sits at a polling average of 7.5 percent.

In a distant seventh place, but with perhaps the greatest room for growth, is Minnesota’s own Senator Amy Klobuchar. She sits at an interesting crossroads of having little national name recognition – reflected in her 3.7 percent polling average – while also having one of the highest approval ratings in the entire Senate. Klobuchar has never lost an election, and in her announcement rally she paid homage to 1960s Minnesota as ‘a state that works’ due to its midwestern pragmatism and bipartisanship. She is one of the most conservative Democrats in the running, but also one with a notable resume and long history of legislative experience.