Elections in the US take a long time. We won’t vote for our president again until next November, but barely halfway through President Trump’s first term, the race to re-elect or replace him is already picking up steam.
Whatever you think of President Trump, he’s certainly a polarizing candidate, so this is likely to be one of the hardest fought elections in decades, and a lot of politicians see it as a chance to make a name for themselves even if they don’t have any realistic chance of winning.
Most of the next 18 months will be taken up with deciding whose names go forward for the election itself — and that’s the part of the process that’s usually the most frustrating for voters. Who do we need to pay attention to, and who can we already write off as an also-ran?
That’s why we’ve put together this guide, so you can get a glimpse into each candidate and what they say they stand for. Are there any surprises in store for 2020? Let’s have a look at the candidates who’ve declared themselves so far, and take a shot at estimating their chances.
- President Donald Trump. The 45th president needs no introduction — he’s the best known political figure of the century. He also has no real challengers inside his own party. Trump is practically guaranteed to get the GOP nomination, and unless the Dems do a lot better than they did in 2016, he’s probably going to keep making America great again for another four years.
- Bill Weld. A former US Attorney for Massachusetts and head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, 74-year-old Bill Weld is a maverick who’s switched from the GOP to the Libertarian Party and back again. He’s no fan of President Trump, but no threat to him either. Weld has already admitted that any hopes he has are based on independent and swing voters because Trump’s lead among Republicans is impregnable. Bill Weld is not going to be our next president.
Most analysts agree that the Democrats doomed themselves in 2016 by choosing a tired candidate that most Americans were basically fed up with. What surprised people is that the Dem race came down to a contest between the ultra-establishment Hillary Clinton and maverick leftist Bernie Sanders.
The fact that the ancient socialist made it to the final two seems to have convinced most Dems that the way to win is to go as far left as they can. That might be a good strategy for the Democrat primaries — but how will it play with the American people? No less than 25 Democrats are in the race to find out. Here they are in alphabetical order:
- Michael Bennet. The senior US senator from Colorado is a moderate Democrat, socially liberal — he supports gay marriage and the DREAM Act — but opposed far-left ideas like Medicare for all. He’s also voted against a Bernie Sanders resolution that would have withdrawn US troops from Yemen, and in April he signed a letter to President Trump that expressed worries about Communist China’s growing influence in US universities and media organizations. Bennet is also reasonably supportive of the Second Amendment. He wants restrictions on “high-capacity magazines,” but voted against reinstating the federal assault weapon ban. As a relatively little-known moderate, Bennet has almost no chance of getting the nomination.
- Joe Biden. Best known as Obama’s vice president, Biden is one of just a handful of real heavyweights in the Dem race. After sitting as a US senator from Delaware for 36 years, he knows how government works, and he’s collected plenty of experience in major policy areas along the way. Biden has sat on committees dealing with the law, narcotics and foreign affairs, and then as VP had some dealings with pretty much everything the federal government does. He’s probably the most electable of the Democrat candidates; his biggest problem is that most in his own party don’t like him. He’s too moderate for the “woke” left to stomach, and that could easily cost him the nomination. He’s also 76 years old, making him one of the oldest candidates in the race.
- Cory Booker. Moving left, we find the junior senator from New Jersey. Booker has been a senator since 2013 — before that he spent seven years as mayor of Newark — and now he wants to follow Obama and become the second African-American POTUS. He’s an ultra-liberal, with the third most liberal voting record of any senator. A fan of identity politics, “social justice,” abortion and socialized healthcare, he’s far to the left of most Americans. He has a reasonable chance of getting the Dem nomination, but he’d struggle to attract centrist voters next November.
- Steve Bullock. Montana’s governor is another moderate. In fact, he’s so moderate it’s hard to work out if he has any opinions of his own. In the 2016 campaign, he avoided the DNC and stayed neutral in the primaries. He endorsed Hillary Clinton but disagreed with her opposition on coal mining because there’s a lot of that in Montana. He sticks to the standard Democrat line on most issues — unless there’s a reason not to. Like Bennet, his chances of winning the nomination are slim.
- Pete Buttigieg. Presidential candidates tend to be senators and governors, with a sprinkling of representatives. Pete Buttigieg is the leading candidate among a handful of mayors throwing their hats in the ring this time around. Just 37, he’s young to be running for the White House, but he’s done a lot. A former journalist, manager and US Navy combat veteran, he already had a packed resume by the time he was elected mayor of South Bend, IN, at the age of 29. Well to the left of the party, the openly gay Buttigieg is an admirer of Bernie Sanders and supports socialized healthcare and green policies.
- Julián Castro. A former mayor of San Antonio, TX, Castro was the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet — he’s still only 44. Castro has family links to the radical Mexican-American Raza Unida party, which his mother helped found. He’s moderate on the economy, believing in balanced budgets and free trade, but “progressive” on most other issues and loudly supports Medicare for all. Luckily he doesn’t stand much chance of ever being president.
- Bill de Blasio. It says a lot about the Dem’s candidates that a mayor is one of the heavyweights, but de Blasio does have some genuine political clout. A career city politician, he’s been mayor of NYC since 2013. His politics are defined by New York so far, but he’s a mainstream Democrat and one of the few with any real chance of appealing to swing voters. The radical wing of the party doesn’t like him following a well-publicized confrontation with left-wing darling AOC, who he slammed for not understanding how tax breaks work after her anti-Amazon rant, which cost NYC a lucrative Amazon deal.
- John Delaney. A US representative from Maryland until 2018 when he started eyeing the White House, most people see Delaney as another moderate — even if he doesn’t completely agree with that himself. He’s very progressive on some issues and supports increasing the already high corporate tax rates. Pro-policing groups rate him as tough on crime, but he also supports drug legalization and gun control. He’s a lot further left than most people believe; luckily, he’s not going to get the nomination.
- Tulsi Gabbard. Serving as a US representative from Hawaii since 2013, Gabbard is also a National Guard veteran who has deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. She was also the youngest woman elected to the state legislature, and at 38 is one of the younger candidates in the presidential race. Gabbard has moved left over the years and is generally at the progressive end of the Democratic Party. However, she takes a tough line on immigration — often voting with the GOP — and is less extreme on gun control than other Dems. Relatively unknown outside Hawaii, Gabbard’s chances of winning the nomination are low.
- Kirsten Gillibrand. The junior US senator from New York is another heavyweight with a realistic chance of winning the nomination, especially given the Dems’ desire to pick someone other than a white man. She took Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and would like to achieve what Hillary couldn’t — the presidency. Originally a centrist, she’s moved to the left since entering the Senate. She now supports Medicare for all and a federal jobs guarantee. Gillibrand will probably make it through to the last three or four candidates — and could just make it all the way.
- Mike Gravel. Former Alaska senator Mike Gravel is both the oldest and the most eccentric candidate in the race. A former Democrat who switched to the Libertarian party in 2008, the 89-year-old says he’s running to “bring a critique of American imperialism to the Democratic debate stage.” Gravel openly admits he won’t win, so there’s no reason to worry too much about what policies he’d bring in if he did.
- Kamala Harris. Another junior senator, from California this time, the 54-year-old former California Attorney General leans strongly left on most issues. She’s a supporter of abortion with a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood (and 0% from the National Right to Life Committee), opposed to the death penalty (although she doesn’t think it’s unconstitutional) and consistently supports tougher gun control. As a woman of Jamaican and Indian heritage, Harris ticks all the right identity politics boxes the Dems love and has a real chance at the nomination.
- John Hickenlooper. The former Denver mayor and governor of Colorado has a background in both business and science as well as politics — he was a joint owner of one of the first brewpubs in the US. He has a reputation for being undogmatic — he tries to deal with the facts rather than any strong ideology. He leans left on gun control and capital punishment, signing a bill that restricted magazine capacities in Colorado to 15 rounds and granting an indefinite stay of execution to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap. On the other hand, he’s a fiscal conservative and opposed Medicare for all.
- Jay Inslee. Center-left Democrat Inslee has done two stints in the House of Representatives and is currently the governor of Washington. He’s turned out to be an activist governor, if not a very democratic one — he used the state legal system to sue the administration over its efforts to control who’s coming into the country. Inslee focuses on environmental policy and drug reform, he supported the 1994 assault weapon ban and as governor, he’s put a freeze on capital punishment. However, he also supports free trade and tax cuts for the middle class. Inslee is splitting his attention between the White House and the 2020 gubernatorial race, which suggests even he doesn’t rate his chances too highly.
- Amy Klobuchar. Minnesota’s senior US senator is pretty left-wing on most questions. Pro-abortion and gay rights, anti guns and the military, and a supporter of Obamacare and open access to Medicaid, a Klobuchar presidency would radically transform the US. She’s also been hyperactive in pushing the Russia conspiracy theory against President Trump and working to enable illegal immigration. Klobuchar claims she uses humor to stand out from the other candidates, but there’s nothing funny about what she’d do if she ever became POTUS.
- Wayne Messam. A 45-year-old construction company owner, former NFL wide receiver and current mayor of Miramar, FL, Messam is an outside candidate with little hope of winning the nomination. As an African-American, he’s likely to poll strongly among black Democrats and identity politics enthusiasts, but he’s not a strong candidate. That’s a pity in some ways because he seems to be more moderate than many of his rivals.
- Seth Moulton. US Marine veteran and Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton describes himself as a progressive Democrat but caucuses with the moderate, fiscally responsible New Democrat Coalition. He’s rated as one of the most bipartisan members of the House but is more to the left than that suggests. He supports gun control despite having served four tours in Iraq (he also opposes more US involvement in that country) and is a fan of AOC’s “Green New Deal,” which would pretty much obliterate the US economy.
- Beto O’Rourke. Robert Francis O’Rourke stepped down as a congressman from Texas earlier this year to focus on the White House. The 46-year-old is one of the youngest of the serious candidates, and he’s also pretty much in the center of the Democratic Party politically. Very liberal on drugs, guns and immigration, his only saving grace is his moderate economic views. O’Rourke would be a dangerous president, and Republicans need to keep a close eye on his campaign.
- Tim Ryan. Ohio congressman Ryan has been drifting slowly to the left since he was first elected in 2003. Formerly pro-life, he now supports federal funding for abortion and has helped at least one illegal immigrant remain in the US (he’s now been deported). Ryan was first seen as a potential candidate after the 2018 midterms.
- Bernie Sanders. The surprise challenger in 2016, Vermont’s junior senator is the longest-serving Independent in congressional history. In his long political career he’s been a member of Vermont’s Liberty Union Party and the Trotskyite Socialist Worker’s Party. Sanders is often praised for the consistency of his political beliefs, but what this means is that his beliefs haven’t evolved since the 1970s. A far-left “democratic socialist” who believes in big government and a tightly controlled economy, he would be an absolute disaster as leader of any advanced country, never mind the US. The 77-year-old Sanders gets support from people too young to understand how evil socialism actually is, and a handful of ancient radicals like himself. Unfortunately, as we saw in 2016, there’s potentially a lot of that support and he has a very real chance of winning the nomination this time around.
- Joe Sestak. Retired Vice Admiral Sestak was the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress when he first won his Pennsylvania seat in 2007. Despite his Navy background, he’s strongly progressive, supporting gun control, abortion and the Iran nuclear deal. He does want to control government spending though; he supports forcing Congress to offset the cost of any new government programs by cutting existing spending. Sestak is an outside candidate who’s unlikely to win.
- Tom Steyer. Hedge fund billionaire Steyer has been a Democrat activist and fundraiser for decades, going back at least to Walter Mondale’s 1983 campaign. Since then he’s spent hundreds of millions of his own money on political campaigning and other causes. Steyer supported Hillary Clinton for years. He’s a centrist Democrat on most issues but has a strong focus on environmental laws. Steyer is well known in the party but has little chance of winning the nomination.
- Elizabeth Warren. The senior senator from Massachusetts should be one of the heavyweight contenders, but she’s upset enough people on both wings of the Democratic Party to dent her chances. A former Republican voter, and seen as economically conservative, she’s put a lot of effort into chasing the left-wing vote. She’s also a fierce critic of President Trump, and the two have had an often brutal war of words since the 2016 campaign. She’s been accused of faking or exaggerating Native American ancestry to boost her academic and political careers. Some polls put Warren in second place to Biden for the Dem nomination, so she’s definitely one to watch.
- Marianne Williamson. A former (unsuccessful) independent candidate for the House in 2014, the 67-year-old Williamson is a definite outsider candidate. She has a long history of social activism but little experience in actual politics. Her views make her a progressive Democrat, supporting a $15 minimum wage that would cause massive economic damage and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. She also supports gun control and higher taxes.
- Andrew Yang. Forty-four-year-old Yang is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and has a varied background as a lawyer, entrepreneur and investor. He has radical ideas, including a so-called “universal basic income,” where the government pays every adult enough money to live on. That’s good news if you don’t want to work, but bad luck if you’re a taxpayer. Luckily, Yang has no real chance of winning.
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