Every 2020 Democratic Candidate, Ranked

Power rankings: We track the performance of each Democratic presidential candidate in their bid for the Democratic nomination.

From top left: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders. (Official Photos)

From top left: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders. (Official Photos)

The Democratic primary field is historically crowded. With 24 voices vying to be the one to challenge Donald Trump for the White House next year, it can be hard to push through the noise and figure out which candidate is doing well and which one is not. Polls are one indicator, but they are subject to change week to week, and so can only tell us so much.

Introducing Rantt Media’s 2020 Democratic Candidate Power Rankings. Here we try to bring together a variety of factors to determine who is performing the best in their bid to be the next POTUS. Factors include: the candidates’ political experience, their actions on the campaign trail (how they did in campaign events and other notable occurrences on the trail), polls (unavoidable, but we try to look past the general numbers), their alignment with the Democratic base, and donor contributions, among others.

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Bringing Up The Rear

24. Tulsi Gabbard

Latest polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: US non-intervention in Syria

It is generally accepted that whoever wins the nomination of the Democratic Party will receive the support of all Democratic politicians and the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard might be the exception to that rule. Her history of homophobia and her support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad make her thoroughly unelectable as a Democrat and possibly the only candidate where writing in “Harambe” would make sense, if she were to win the nomination. While she has apologized for the former, Gabbard’s stance on Syria – whether it is her doubting of Assad’s use of chemical weapons or her assertion the Iran and Russia backed dictator is not an enemy of the US – make her seem less like she is running for the position of President and more like she is running for the position of RT evening news anchor.

When Richard Spencer and the far-right support your candidacy, you just might be reprehensible.

23. Mike Gravel

Latest polling: ~0%
Signature Issues: direct democracy, nuclear nonproliferation, non-interventionism

At 88, Mike Gravel defines politician of a bygone era. A Senator from Alaska in the seventies, his most known for reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. By all accounts, he just wants to get on the debate stage to talk about the issues listed above. Weird fact: his campaign was set up by a bunch of teenagers.

22. Steve Bullock

Latest polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: Campaign finance reform

The governor of Montana cites his ability to win in Trump country and his pragmatism as his credentials. Having entered the race just three weeks ago, it is hard to see how he can put together the staff and donor base necessary to achieve recognition beyond the Cheyenne metropolitan area. Interesting fact: he has supported an assault weapons ban in a state where hunting is king.

21. Wayne Messam

Latest polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: Canceling student debt

The first black mayor of Miramar, Florida would be a great Democratic candidate for higher office, with progressive stances on gun reform, immigration, and the environment. The White House might be a bit too high though.

Weird fact: Messam was a wide receiver for the Florida State Seminoles, winning a national championship with them in 1993. He probably has a better shot at winning a spot on the Miami Dolphins training camp than the nomination.

20. Marianne Williamson

Latest polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: America’s Spirituality?

The self-help author might have enough fans to sneak onto the debate stage later this month, but that’s not saying much. She has come out in favor of some progressive issues such as reparations, but given her complete lack of experience, it is hard to see her campaign as anything more than self-brand promotion.

19. Andrew Yang

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Universal Basic Income

The tech entrepreneur has run a better than expected campaign, generating social media buzz talking about tech issues such as robotics and AI, as well as what he dubs “The Freedom Dividend”, a UBI scheme whereby every American is given $1,000 in an effort to reduce inequality. It’s a novel but untested idea, and it seems most voters outside the Twittersphere aren’t too interested.

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The [Insert White Guy Name Here] Crowd

18. John Delaney

Latest Polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: Centrism?

The former Maryland congressman has been on the campaign trail since 2017 and has apparently already visited every county in Iowa. Aside from an appreciation of chicken fried steaks, it is hard to see what has come of it. One of a handful of centrist candidates running, Delaney drew boos at the California Democratic Convention for denouncing Medicare for All.

17. Bill de Blasio

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issues: Education, Crime?

Like Bullock, de Blasio entered the race just three weeks ago, and no one is quite sure why. The mayor of New York City was once lauded for his universal prekindergarten program and the city’s falling crime rates but has more recently fallen out of favor in the Big Apple. His biggest campaign initiative so far seems to be getting goaded into Donald Trump’s attacks on him. There are reports that de Blasio is just using a campaign run as a distraction from his mayoral responsibilities. Might we suggest golf, instead?

16. Seth Moulton

Latest Polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: National Security

Moulton has the type of resume that makes pundits swoon: a young Harvard educated veteran from a prominent state (Massachusetts) certainly ticks off a lot of boxes of the stereotypical American politician. Moulton himself seems to think that’s enough for a presidential run, but his record would say otherwise. After leading an almost comical effort to oust Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Moulton then became part of the “Five White Guys” that tried to mansplain their way into a DACA resolution. Once a rising star, Moulton now seems more indicative of the type of white privilege many left-leaning voters despise.

15. Eric Swalwell

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Gun control

The Congressman from California has received some popularity thanks to his seats on the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, and his frequent appearances on cable news shows. Swalwell launched his campaign in a town hall in Parkland and has placed gun control as a main focus. At 38, he has a seemingly long future in politics, but it likely won’t involve the White House next year.

14. John Hickenlooper

Latest Polling: ~0%
Signature Issue: Consensus building on healthcare and gun control, among other issues

Hickenlooper was once the poster child for Democratic centrism. The former governor of Colorado prides himself on the type of purple-state pragmatism some believe is the perfect Trump antidote. But like most other candidates who try to don this mantle, Hickenlooper has failed to get this message to resonate with the Democratic base’s progressive tilt. This was most evident when he was booed during this weekend’s California Democratic Convention for not agreeing with policies like the Green New Deal and M4A.

13. Michael Bennet

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Economic modernization

Bennet gets the nod over Hickenlooper only because he was not booed recently and because he’s polled just a sliver better (although, with both polling under the margin of error, that’s not exactly fair.) Otherwise, his appeal is practically the same: a Colorado moderate seeking to be seen as a bipartisan problem solver in hopes of snagging blue-collar votes. Bennet has had some bipartisan success at the Congressional level, as he was part of the so-called Gang of Eight that crafted a failed immigration reform effort in 2013. Judging by his viral moment where he took Ted Cruz to task on the Senate floor, he may fair well in the debates. But, like the guy below him, his record fails to resonate with where the party is going.

12. Tim Ryan

Latest Polling: ~0%
Signature Issues: Labor and economic issues

You can do a virtual copy and paste of most of what was said about the last four candidates for Tim Ryan. He gets a slight nod here because he is from Ohio, which is more important electorally than Colorado, and because he has been around a little longer than Moulton or Swalwell. Otherwise, ditto…

11. Jay Inslee

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Climate change

Out of all the aforementioned “White Guy” campaigns, Inslee’s seems to have the best shot at lasting past 2019. A two-term governor of Washington state and former congressman, Inslee has focused his campaign solely on climate change, while also not shying away from the party’s progressive ideals. He is still more than a long shot for the White House, but he may be able to stick around long enough to parlay his support into a VP or Cabinet position (he’d be great for the Interior Department or EPA.)

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The Actual Long Shots

10. Kirsten Gillibrand

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Gender Equality

Gillibrand makes it into the top 10 purely because of bigger name recognition than the other 1 percenters. The New York Senator has been an inspirational champion for women’s rights in Congress in the Trump era, but her campaign has not been able to take off, and she has recently had to resort to asking for dollar donations just to make the DNC’s 65,000 donor requirement for the debates. Part of the problem seems to be her inability to decide whether she is progressive or moderate; she has tried to talk up her credentials in both camps and has come out not looking strong in either. The debates may be her last opportunity to figure it out.

9. Amy Klobuchar

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issue: Health Reform

Klobuchar has seemingly navigated the progressive-moderate question better than the candidates below her on this list and has the higher fundraising numbers to prove it. She has created a type of “heartland Democrat” campaign, emphasizing midwestern issues such as opioid crisis legislation and economic prosperity with a type of progressivism that emphasizes progress over idealism. However, her mistreatment of staff members should have gotten more attention; if she were a male candidate, she would have been out of the race (and perhaps out of office) by now.

8. Julian Castro

Latest Polling: 1%
Signature Issues: Immigration reform, Medicare for All

Few campaigns suffer more from the overabundance of candidates than Castro’s, who has found he has few traits that set him apart from other candidates. Once seen as a rising minority politician, his Hispanic-immigrant background now looks less notable in a field with six women, three African-Americans, a half-Polynesian Hindu (Gabbard), two Asians (Yang and Harris, who is half-Indian) and an openly gay candidate. His experience as a former mayor and Obama HUD Secretary also doesn’t seem so impressive when compared to the litany of prominent Senators, governors, and a former VP. Nor can he draw upon his Texas roots, now that Beto has claimed the Texas Democrat mantle.

His inability to separate himself belies Castro’s thoughtful ideas on a variety of issues, including immigration, police reform, and reparations, among others. He needs a strong showing in the summer’s debates more than any other candidate in this tier.

7. Corey Booker

Latest Polling: 2%
Signature Issue: Criminal Justice Reform

Booker is another rising star whose luster has been dulled by the others. He was once billed as a surefire frontrunner; FiveThirtyEight rank the support he receives from party members as tied for second to Biden. His oratory skills and donor base have so far not panned out. In fact, some of his connections have actually hurt more than helped, as Booker’s ties to pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street have not been looked upon well by progressives.

Booker still has time to move his campaign forward. His speech on the mass shooting in Virginia Beach – he was one of the few candidates to actually address it – shows he can still separate himself from the field.

The Potential Front Runners

6. Beto O’Rourke

Latest Polling: 3%
Signature Issue: Immigration/Border Security

“Potential Front Runner” may be a dated term for Beto. The Texas Senate candidate seems to have the type of Obama-like charisma, good looks, and energy that would provide the perfect contrast to Trump, and which made his bid legitimate despite his relative lack of experience and loss to Ted Cruz.

Nothing seems to have gone right for Beto since announcing. The long-anticipated campaign kickoff turned into a tacky, Annie Leibovitz-rendered thirst trap. Beto’s campaign quickly grew heavy on pointless live streams and antics, while remaining bare on substance (he recently unveiled a thoughtful climate plan but offers only “aspirations” on other issues.) The dismal initial results prompted a campaign reboot a few weeks ago. Beto’s charm will keep him in the race, but if he cannot overcome an inability to discuss policy in a meaningful way, he will be little more than a footnote in political history books. No other major candidate looks more vulnerable on a debate stage.

5. Peter Buttigieg

Latest Polling: 8%
Signature Issue: Millennial Economic Opportunity

Buttigieg has had the most surprising campaign out of anyone in the field; the South Bend, Indiana mayor would have ranked near the bottom if we had done these rankings a few months ago. The 37-year-old openly gay candidate and former veteran has drawn buzz by casting himself as a leftist Christian millennial with blue-collar sensibilities.

His campaign is far from perfect, however: his sympathy for Trump voters and religious conservatives sometimes verges on excusing bigotry, and he has not been able to reach out to people of color very effectively (he calls them “people on the wrong side of the tracks” in his book a little too often.) This summer should reveal whether Buttigieg is for real or just a flash in the pan.

The Actual Front Runners

4. Bernie Sanders

Latest Polling: 12%
Signature Issue: Democratic Socialism

We’ll wait a moment until Bernie stans stop screaming…

Placing Sanders 4th may seem unfair at first glance, given his second place in the polls, his large polling advantage against Trump, and large contribution haul. But this has more to do with Bernie’s outlook in the long term than his positioning currently (and we cannot understate how little polls matter 7 months before the Iowa caucuses.)

In his second straight run for the nomination, Sanders had superior name recognition, a bevy of experience stumping for other candidates during the midterms, and a robust grassroots infrastructure already in place well before any of the other candidates jumped in the race. As the preeminent voice of the progressive wing, he was well placed to expand his base in 2020.

He hasn’t. Part of this is due to the fact that most of the top candidates adopted policies Bernie brought to the fore in 2016, including Medicare for All and student loan forgiveness, making his message less novel than in his first campaign.

Sanders has not done himself any favors, however. A lot of his long-standing warts – his non-inclusive agenda, his sketchy support for other progressive issues, such as immigration and gun control – have not been addressed and have started to become more noticeable. (Indeed, they should have been apparent in 2016, if the MSM did its job right.)

Sanders’ own attitude when faced with tougher questions, notably on his millionaire status, also has not helped. Nor has a staff that seems more poised to launch negative attacks than work to win over voters.

Enter Joe Biden, whose mere presence has served to winnow down support for Sanders almost overnight. Many of the Rust Belt voters Sanders is thought to be popular with have in particular flocked to the former VP.

Sanders is still a frontrunner; due to his aforementioned advantages, he will likely maintain the level of support he currently has well into 2020. But his path to gaining more support seems less clear than the candidates ahead of him on this list. For example, just 8% of white college graduates – a key demographic for Sanders – support him in the latest CNN poll. It will take more than Bernie bros for Sanders to secure the nomination, and it’s not clear that others are buying into his brand this time around.

3. Kamala Harris

Latest Polling: 6%
Signature Issues: Civil Rights and Economic Reform

Few candidates combine charisma, toughness, policy knowledge, and experience the way Harris does. From taking the Trump administration to task in investigations to her ability to communicate policy in a uniquely thoughtful way (“Every American is worried about the same things awake at 3AM,” she is fond of saying), Harris has certainly looked the part. Her focus on civil rights and equality resonates across a wide swathe of voters, and also highlights issues not often discussed (for example, with her bill to address maternal health disparities among black women.)

She hasn’t received a large share of support from voters, yet though. Harris has not been able to secure more than 10% of the Democratic candidate support in the polls and currently trails Trump in many national polls (although she is crucially up in Michigan.)

One major reason for this is the longstanding misogyny all women candidates face, in particular, the inherent bias of “likability” and “electability”; that ridiculously ambiguous and undefined measure pundits love to talk about women not having. Harris, of course, not only suffers the electability “woman tax”, but also a few others for being African-American and Indian-American.

There are also issues with her actual candidacy. Her past as a prosecutor and attorney general has not been the most progressive (and in and of itself prompts “cop” hisses from the most left-wing voters.) It may also be argued that she has sometimes seemed too aware of her rising star status, taking the politically convenient decision over the more radical one. Her campaign has at times seemed overly cautious as well.

Harris has addressed such criticisms head-on, speaking candidly about her record. She has also re-energized her campaign with a series of campaign events. Her MSNBC town hall alone drew 2.2 million viewers. Her social media reach also seems to be among the best of the field.

All of this indicates that Harris has more staying power than her current polling indicates. She is still very much a candidate people want to hear from (a May poll found that she was the candidate Democratic or Democratic-leaning independents most wanted to hear more about), and that in and of itself gives her a lot of potential to gain more support as the field narrows

2. Elizabeth Warren

Latest Polling: 16%
Signature Issue: Too Many To List

No one has had a more active campaign than Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator and CFBP creator has put forth the most policy proposals of any candidate, so much so that “I Have a Plan for That” has become her unofficial campaign motto. This has allowed her to stand out as a policy wonk and dominate discussions on a variety of issues – from breaking up monopolies to economic and education reform – and to do so in a way that appeals to a broad range of voters. She was also the first presidential candidate to call for impeaching Trump. Furthermore, she has been busy on the campaign trail, leading successful town halls, and even carrying her message deep into Trump country.

Like Harris, Warren’s efforts haven’t yet translated to a large vote share, either, and the “woman tax” is equally to blame. Warren, in particular, may be a victim of her own success; there is evidence to suggest that being a competent woman candidate is somehow seen as uninspiring in our society. Another reason for her lower vote share is the mere fact that many people simply don’t get excited about policy. There’s also the DNA-test fiasco, which seemingly will not go away.

Warren has positioned herself to overcome all of this. Already, she’s gaining a ton of momentum, gaining or even eclipsing Sanders in recent polls. Moreover, in what ought to silence the “electability” critics, she is ahead of Trump in Michigan and doing better against him in Texas than Beto (!).

She has still more room to grow. In setting out her agenda this early, she can control the tone of the party’s overall platform, while everyone else will have to play catch up to craft their own unique-enough policies on many issues. Meanwhile, having laid out her message, she can now spend time on the campaign trail articulating it for those in the back. She also looks poised to gain the most from debates, as she will likely shine against lesser prepared opponents.

1. Joe Biden

Latest Polling: 26%
Signature Issue: Restoring America’s Standing

Few can argue Biden is the candidate to beat, whether one supports him or not. The former Vice President and longtime Delaware Senator brings in the most experience as a candidate for the White House since, well, Hillary Clinton. There is no other candidate in the field that can honestly say they would be ready for the Oval Office from Day 1. Biden’s 36-year history in Congress, in which he served as Chair for the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, would also give him the most legislative experience since Lyndon Johnson, at least.

Biden’s ability to be President was never the question, however, but rather whether he is the right person to lead the Democratic Party for our time. There is plenty in his past that would suggest he is not. With women driving the party’s momentum and direction in a post #MeToo world, Joe Biden’s creepiness and harassment goes from merely cringe-worthy to damning. Some of his other past misdeeds – his treatment of Anita Hill, his former/current abortion stance, his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill – speak to the type of Democratic Party many leftist voters want to move away from.

Biden has apologized for many of these actions, but his campaign so far still seems stuck in the past. His most recent reversal on support for the Hyde Amendment speaks to someone who does not understand the demands of his base or the issues they care about. Furthermore, his confidence that only Trump stands in the way of the bipartisanship of the past, or that Trump himself is an aberration, or that the GOP isn’t the root of the problem, all seem like takes devoid of reality and out of touch with the state of the country in general. This, combined with Biden’s proneness to gaffes and putting his foot in his mouth, makes him seem less the man of the moment and more the man of a moment long past.

The Biden campaign seems untroubled by this. He seems content on ignoring his rift with progressives and corralling moderate votes to win, knowing most to his left will support him if he wins the nomination. It’s a sound strategy, given that many non-activist voters of all backgrounds see him as the only candidate capable of beating Trump.

It may not work, however. Biden has gone from unassailable to beatable since he first announced, dropping 13 points in the most recent Economist/YouGov poll. Biden’s skipping the California Democratic Convention may have been for the better; lesser candidates who echoed his centrist messages were notably booed by activists.

His name recognition, experience, the pragmatic appeal he carries across virtually all Democratic voting blocs, his endorsements in the party, and his deep donor base all make him the most likely candidate to win the nomination. But an opponent that can effectively harness progressive enthusiasm might just be able to overcome those advantages. Barring a (not unlikely) campaign fallout, Biden will likely sit at the top for most of the race. But he shouldn’t start packing for the White House anytime soon.

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Opinion // 2020 / Democratic Party