Examining the 2020 Democratic Heavyweights
A snapshot of the 6 candidates most likely to win the nomination.
The 2016 Presidential election dramatically altered the course of American politics, and it is inarguably the most contentious election in recent memory, more so than the 2000 Bush-Gore recount debacle.
With that said, it was also a political junkie’s dream election, with a plethora of juicy plot lines, gaffes, scandals, and controversies that decorated the election season, as well as the debates, primaries, and endorsements that added to the intrigue. Sprinkle in some highly divisive tweets, and you have yourself an election fit for reality TV.
But it was the colorful cast of characters that made this election truly historic. You had the seasoned politicians gunning for their long-awaited moment, the young and ambitious itching to burst onto the national season, the policy wonks, the kooks, and the crazies. This election, however, was dominated by three people.
There was Hillary Clinton, the darling of the Democratic establishment, the one chosen long before any votes were cast, whose decades of public service brought with it a mountain of baggage. The world watched as she became the first woman in American history to be the nominee of a major political party, and the world watched as a confluence of forces robbed her of the White House.
There was Bernie Sanders, a long-time independent that occupied the fringes of American politics, who nearly derailed the Democratic establishment’s coronation of Hillary Clinton. He rose from the wintry reaches of Vermont and crusaded against corporations and corruption, stealing headlines and the hearts of America’s youth. And, *spoiler alert*, he isn’t finished yet.
And then there was Donald J. Trump, a real-estate mogul, reality TV show host, and the man primarily known for launching the Birther Movement. His long flirtations with politics were often a topic that brought mirth to Washington insiders, and when he officially began his campaign, many saw it as yet another publicity stunt from a man obsessed with the spotlight. And now he’s the President of the United States of America. He blitzed his way through a crowded GOP field and vanquished Hillary Clinton, who many pundits predicted would easily defeat the untamed outsider. But Trump prevailed, and it’s Trump’s world we’re living in.
Despite all of this, 2016 will be overshadowed by the upheaval on the horizon: the 2020 Presidential election. The narratives are already being shaped, and many see the next election as a titanic struggle for America’s soul.
With President Trump sitting in the Oval Office issuing out edicts that are designed to obliterate his predecessor’s legacy, tweets that serve only to divide and deride, and sound-bites that bring shame and embarrassment to everyone but him and his supporters, there is a crowd forming to dethrone and banish him to the annals of history.
And this crowd, already large, will continue to grow in the years leading up to the primaries. With a galvanized base and a country divided, dozens of Democrats all across the country are readying themselves for an opportunity to lead the party into the next stage of its history, and immortalize themselves as the one that rid the world of Donald Trump.
BUT, as with each election, the hopefuls, consisting of mayors and tech moguls and everything in between, will find themselves disappointed, for the next election will come down to one of the six candidates I have listed below. For various reasons, which I’ll explain shortly, these six candidates have the most realistic paths to power, and absent of any major scandal, it will be one of these six candidates that stand on the same debate stage as President Trump in 2020.
The political maneuvering has begun, as has the casual trips to swing states, and once the dust settles on the 2018 midterms, the election will all but officially kicked off, so prepare yourselves for the avalanche of ads, articles, and announcements.
Below you’ll find a concise list of the six candidates that will dominate the headlines for the next several years, accompanied with bios, resumes, and reasons for which they stand above the rest. I understand that political predictions in the age of Trump are a dime a dozen, but I promise that this list will be well worth the read.
Bio: Born in Oakland, California in 1963. A child of immigrants (her mother was Indian and her father Jamaican), Harris attended Howard University in D.C. before returning to California and earning her JD from UC Hastings in San Francisco. In 2014, Harris married Douglas Emhoff, the managing director of Venerable LLP’s Los Angeles Office. She is the second African-American woman ever elected to the US Senate.
Resume: District Attorney of San Francisco 2004–2011, Attorney General of California 2011–2017, US Senate 2017-Present. Serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the Committee on the Budget.
Key Moment: The junior senator from California wasted no time proving her moxie when the former prosecutor grilled Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials during hearings over Russian election interference in the 2016 elections. Her rapid-fire style of questioning left Jeff Sessions visibly shaken, but also drew the admonishment of the GOP committee members, who repeatedly interrupted her as she pressed Sessions on whether or not he disclosed his contacts with Russian entities. Support for her flooded social media, and fellow Democrats (and 2020 hopefuls) offered words of encouragement, all of which Harris capitalized on with a succinct tweet.
2020 Outlook: Although new on the national scene, Senator Harris is swiftly solidifying her candidacy and keeping a low-profile as she does it. Seeking to alleviate concerns about her lack of foreign policy experience, Harris was able to nab critical slots on the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees. She has been seen campaigning and fundraising in key battleground states for her Democratic colleagues, and she’ll likely be much more active during the 2018 midterms. She was the first Senator to co-sponsor Senator Sanders’ single payer health care bill, making inroads with the Bernie-wing of the Democratic Party. As a freshman Senator with very little nation name recognition, Senator Harris still has a ways to go, but she certainly has a host of built-in advantages. An accomplished, woman of color from the Democratic stronghold of California, which so happened to move its primary up to March, without the baggage accompanying some of the other candidates, it can be argued that Harris is leading the pack. On the same token, however, can one hailing from the epicenter of liberal politics, San Francisco, win over the blue-collar voters from the midwest?
Bio: Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941. He studied Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he was active in various Civil Rights organizations as well as a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. After a brief return to New York, Sanders moved to Vermont where he engaged in a variety of activites prior to entering politics. Sanders is married to Jane Sanders, a former president of Burlington College. Sanders holds the distinction of being the longest serving independent member of Congress in American History.
Resume: Mayor of Burlington 1981–1989, US House of Representatives 1991–2007, US Senate 2007 — Present. Serves on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Committee of Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Budget, and the Committee on Veteran Affairs. Sanders was also the runner up for the 2016 Democratic Nomination.
Key Moment: Sanders rose to prominence during the 2016 Democratic Primaries. No one could’ve predicted that a seventy year old socialist from Vermont would’ve resonated with America’s youth and nearly derail HDR’s coronation, but he did, and he did it by proposing radical policy solutions (by American standards). Just as Trump remade the Republican party, Bernie rebranded the Democratic Party and won a legion of supporters while doing so.
2020 Outlook: Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. Now, this does not mean he’s a lock for the nomination and the subsequent Presidency, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his case. Many now see him as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, and if one disagrees with that assessment, it is inarguable that he is the leader of the Progressive movement. His influence is spreading, and many candidates in 2018 will be measured up to the Bernie standard. He has already built on his momentum from the 2016 campaign by sponsoring a single-payer health care bill, or ‘Medicare For All’, which drew the support of several potential 2020 challengers. Many are concerned about his age (he’ll be 79 in 2020), but he won’t be the only septuagenarian running (including the sitting president), and his popularity just may buoy him.
Bio: Born in Washington D.C. in 1969 but raised in Harrington Park, New Jersey. Received his Bachelor in Political Science and Masters in Sociology at Stanford University, where he was an All-Pacific -10 tight end for their football team. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a degree in US History from the University of Oxford. After returning to the US, Booker attended Yale Law School and received a JD. In addition to being a practicing vegan, Booker abstains from alcohol and tobacco. Cory Booker has never been married.
Resume: Member of the Newark City Council 1998–2002, Mayor of Newark 2006–2013, US Senate 2013-Present. Serves on the Commitee on Foreign Relations, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Key Moment: Over the years there have been several attempts at legalizing marijuana at the federal level, but in August of this year Booker sponsored a bill that many consider to be the most ambitious legalization leglisation in American history. The bill would not only encourage states to adopt their own legalization laws but it would also work to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana crimes, as well as resentence people currently in prison. As a side note, Booker was the subject of Street Fight, a critically-acclaimed documentary about his raucous campaign for mayor in 2006.
2020 Outlook: After being passed on as Hilary Clinton’s VP in 2016, presumably due to a lack of foreign policy experience, Booker has sought to rectify this particular shortcoming by navigating his way onto the Foreign Relations Committee, where he’ll look to polish up on his credentials. Furthermore, Booker shored up support from key constituencies by co-sponsoring Senator Sanders’ ‘Medicare for All’ Bill, and by sponsoring his very ambitious marijuana legalization legislation, both of which are doomed to fail in a GOP dominated Congress, but necessary for Booker to position himself as a 2020 contender. With his lofty academic resume, his soaring oratory, and his shrewd political maneuvering, Booker is sure to be among the final few standing in 2020, but many Democratic operatives are concerned that he may not contain the requisite “fire” needed to combat President Trump’s bombastic rhetoric. Booker’s grand vision of a “Conspiracy of Love” may resonate with the optimistic and religious segments of the electorate, but unfortunately 2020 will be dominated by much darker forces, so Booker may need to temper his approach.
Bio: Born in 1949 in Oklahoma City. After a brief stint at George Washington University, she moved to Texas and studied Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Houston. She spent a year teaching children with disabilities in public schools before moving to New Jersey and attending Rutgers University School of Law. She practiced law for a few years before entering academics, moving back to to Texas to teach at the University of Texas School of Law. Warren, who specializes in bankruptcy law, spent a majority of her life in academics and advisory position before entering politics.
Resume: Law Professor 1977–2011, FDIC Advisory Committee 2006–2010, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel 2008–2010, Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 2010–2011, US Senate 2013 — Present. Serves on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Special Committee on Aging, Committee on Armed Services.
Key Moment: In February of 2017, Warren took to the Senate floor to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, choosing to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King over 30 years ago. She was interrupted by Republican Senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who uttered the now famous phrase “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” “Nevertheless, she persisted” spread like wildfire and became a rallying cry for the feminist movement. After being prevented from finishing her speech, Warren finished reading the letter outside the Senate Chamber, broadcasted on Facebook Live, and received nearly five million views in less than 24 hours.
2020 Outlook: Elizabeth Warren likes to keep her cards close to her chest. She waited to endorse Clinton until after she had secured the necessary delegates to clinch the nomination, which allowed Warren to not only maintain her support from the Democratic establishment but also prevent her from alienating the progressive wing of the party that largely supported Bernie Sanders. Since Trump took office, Warren has become his most vocal critic from the senate, constantly engaging him in twitter wars and taking to the media to lambast his every move. She has become a frequent target of the POTUS, and this is actually an asset for any serious contender for the Democratic nomination. Although she is mostly known for her domestic policy, Warren was able to secure a spot on the Armed Forces Committee, allowing her to bolster her commander-in-chief credentials ahead of 2020. She is the most prominent progressive figure outside of Senator Sanders, and she looks to capitalize on that in next year’s midterms. She has a handful of critical accomplishments that she can brandish to her base, including being instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and she has a perfect campaign slogan, gifted to her by Senator McConnell. This, coupled with the previously mentioned popularity with the progressives, makes her a strong contender for the nomination, but it remains to be seen whether or not she can shed the ‘elitist’ image that many blue-collar voters disdain. She’ll also be 71 by the time the election rolls around, but Trump has proven that age is not the ultimate concern for voters.
Bio: Born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Attended the University of Delaware and studied History and Political Science. Afterwards, he attended the College of Law at Syracuse university and received his JD. Biden practiced law privately for a few years before being elected to the Senate in 1972, becoming the sixth youngest Senator in US history. A few weeks after the election, Biden’s wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, died in a car accident, leaving him to care for his two sons during the first few years of his first term. Biden married Jill Jacobs in 1975, and together they have one child.
Resume: New Castle County Council 1970–1972, US Senate 1973–2009, US Vice President 2009–2017. Notable Committee memberships included the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Key Moments: Throughout Biden’s lengthy political career, there have been a number of moments that stand out, but perhaps the most poignant of those was the death of his son, Beau Biden, who succumbed to brain cancer in 2015. The death of his son struck Biden especially hard, and it directly contributed to his decision to forgo the 2016 Presidential election. Many speculate that had Biden decided to run in 2016, it would have fundamentally altered the trajectory of the primaries and may have even seen him take the nomination and the subsequent presidency.
2020 Outlook: Joe Biden has been around for a very, very long time, which is both an asset and a handicap. In his nearly three decades in the Senate, he’s made himself a number of friends on both sides of the aisle, and he’s generally lauded for his bipartisanship and affable demeanor. He served as Chairman of both the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, both amongst the most influential Senate Committees. And, of course, he was the Vice President for eight years, a period that spawned some of the best political memes of our age. Plus, he is among the most popular establishment figures, and recent polls indicate that he’d win in a head-to-head matchup with Donald Trump. With all that said, Biden’s nearly half a century of public service is riddled with questionable decisions that are incompatible with the current climate of the Democratic Party, and each of them provides his primary opponents the opportunity to whittle away at his popularity. There was the Anita Hill debacle, in which, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden stood idly by as Hill was brutally attacked during her testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, and offered weak leadership during the entire process. He has since apologized for the ordeal, an apology that was both rejected by Hill and recognized as pre-cursor to the 2020 elections. Additionally, Biden’s record on criminal justice reform is not so stellar, and the role he played in shaping the current mass incarceration pandemic will certainly be a topic of discussion in 2020. So, although he may be the Democrat best suited to woo over the blue-collar white voters that propelled Donald Trump to the Presidency, he has a long and treacherous road ahead.
Bio: Born in 1966 in Albany, New York. Attended Dartmouth College and majored Asian Studies, studying in both Beijing and Taiwan. Attended the UCLA School of Law and received her JD in 1991. Gillibrand practiced law privately for several years, but was active in politics as she campaigned for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign. In 2006, Gillibrand was elected to serve as Representative of New York’s 20th district, and she was reelected in 2008. When Clinton was selected to serve as Secretary of State, Gillibrand was appointed to replace her in the Senate.
Resume: US House of Representatives 2007–2009, US Senate 2009 — Present. Committee memberships include the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Committee on Armed Forces, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Key Moments: With the country in the midst of an avalanche of sexual assault allegations, Kirsten Gillibrand stands at the forefront of a historic movement. When sexual harassment allegations surfaced against Senator Al Franken, Gillibrand was the first to call for his resignation. Additionally, she made headlines when she suggested that Bill Clinton, an icon in the Democratic establishment and an early supporter of Gillibrand’s, should’ve resigned during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Long before this wave of allegations rippled across America, Gillibrand had been a staunch advocate for reforming the sexual assault and harassment policies across multiple organizations, so it is only fitting that she leads in this new era.
2020 Outlook: For Kirsten Gillibrand, timing is everything. When New York Governor David Paterson announced that he would be selecting Gillibrand to replace Hilary Clinton as Senator, the media’s response was tepid at best. Gillibrand had only just been elected to the House in two years prior, and there were several candidates that were more experienced and had better national standings than she had. Additionally, she was a conservative, blue dog Democrat, who had a history of supporting gun rights (the National Rifle Association awarded her an “A” ) and hard line stances on immigration. But as fate would have it, Senator Charles Schumer, seeking to maintain his position as kingpin of NY politics, persuaded Governor Paterson for the upstate Congresswoman, someone who presumably wouldn’t outshine him. After being appointed, Gillibrand immediately shifted leftward on a majority of her views, calling for stricter gun control laws (prompting the NRA to downgrade her to an “F” rating). She won the special election in 2010, and since then she has gradually boosted her national standings while building a solid legislative resume around her signature issue, sexual assault and harassment. As a first term Senator, Gillibrand waged war against America’s most beloved institution: the military. She sponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act, which sought to combat the rampant sexual assualt and harassment within the military, and she publicly grilled senior military leaders about their inability to protect the victims of sexual assualt and harassment, earning her widespread acclaim. And now, with sexual assault becoming a mainstream issue, the time for Gillibrand has arrived. She was the latest 2020 candidate to warrant an infamous Trump tweet, but all that did was elevate her even higher, and solidify her as the leading voice among women. She, more than anyone on this list, has significant momentum heading into 2018, and she has a proven track record on capitalizing on opportunities. She’ll have to weather a storm during the primaries about her conservative origins, but if she can, she is better positioned than anyone to take the nomination.