Democrats Down To The Final Five?

Based on a number of factors, it appears that the Democratic field for 2020 has shrunk from more than 20 to just 5 viable candidates. Is there room for more?

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg argues that after starting out the summer with more than 20 Democrats running for their party’s nomination, we’re down to seven plausible nominees:

That suggests we’re down to seven plausible nominees: Biden, Senator Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, Klobuchar, Senator Bernie Sanders and Warren. Quite a few would need a big surge from this point to be able to win, although that’s happened before. I also still find it hard to imagine a path for Sanders, but as long as he keeps his faction together it’s difficult to discount him entirely. Two others who will be at the next debate, activist Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, have little if any support from party actors. Yes, Donald Trump won a nomination without such support, but he was leading in the polls at this point, not lagging far behind, and dominated media coverage throughout. 

I’m not ruling anything out after 2016. So I won’t say it’s impossible for Steyer, Yang or one of the candidates who doesn’t make it into the next debate to win the nomination — but I will say it’s increasingly unlikely.

To be honest, I think Bernstein is being overly generous in determining who the plausible nominees are. I agree with him about Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris being on the list of plausible candidates. Each one of them has put up consistent and relatively strong fundraising numbers that will allow them to maintain a campaign through February and beyond. Additionally, these are the candidates who are consistently posting poll numbers of 5% or greater in the national polling, and in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina (although Buttigieg is weak there), and Nevada. These candidates are also getting the most national media attention, although we’re at the point now where that matters less than the amount of local media attention they’re getting in those early primary states. Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that any of these candidates could plausibly be the nominee.

It’s mic more difficult to say the same thing about the other two candidates on Bernstein’s list, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Cory Booker. Bernstein doesn’t really make a case for why either candidate should be included with the other five at this time. Given the fact that there appears to be little evidence to support their inclusion, that’s hardly surprising.

With respect to Klobuchar, Bernstein’s sole argument appears to be the fact that she managed to qualify for the next debate. While this is true, she did so by the skin of her teeth given that she is average below 3% in the polls nationally and in every single one of the early states. Presently, her best-performing state appears to be Iowa, where she’s averaging 2.7% which actually puts her in a three-way tie for fifth-place along with Kamala Harris and Tom Steyer. In all of the other early states, she’s averaging under 2.5%.

Cory Booker, meanwhile, has similarly languished in the bottom of the polls since the beginning of the race, averaging just 2.0% nationally. His best performing early state is South Carolina, where he’s averaging 3.5%. In all other states, he’s averaging at or below 2.0%, just as he is nationally. More importantly, this is best Booker has been able to do since entering the race, suggesting that he probably isn’t going to rise much further.

I suppose it’s possible that either Klobuchar or Booker could see their campaigns take off in the next two months, it’s going to take a lot going in their favor for that to happen. For Klobuchar that would probably mean pulling off a surprise finish in the top three in Iowa, where she enjoys some degree of name recognition due to the fact that she represents neighboring Minnesota in the Senate. For Booker, well, I’m not quite as sure. Perhaps he can afford to wait until as late as South Carolina to pull off a better than expected performance. Even if this happens for either or both candidates, though, it’s hard to see either one of them sustaining a campaign past February.

Things may change, but for now I’d say the Democratic campaign is a five-person race consisting of Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris. Of that group, the two candidates who seem to be the most likely to be the ones fighting it out for the nomination are Biden and Warren, although I doubt that Bernie Sanders will drop out of the race before June regardless of how he’s performing, something that would obviously benefit Biden. Beyond these three, Pete Buttigieg has the potential to become more of a major factor if he does well in Iowa. Harris, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the list and is in danger of slipping into irrelevance. Beyond these five, I don’t see a reason to put people like Booker or Klobuchar, or beyond them to candidates like Gabbard, Staeyer, Yang, or any of the anonymous candidates polling below 1% being able to turn things between now and February when voting starts. All of this could change, of course, but it’s difficult to see how that could happen.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Warren for the win !

  2. Kathy says:

    Inevitable Trump comparison:

    To pull a Cheeto, you need to propose outrageous policies, whether they work or not, that play to the prejudices of the base. It’s hard to see what a democrat could do to accomplish this, as most policies favored by the base are inclusive and constructive.

    Not to mention many are technical and dry. I mean, imagine discussing unions or taxes. That’s harder than walls and trade wars.

    Still, maybe outright expropriation of tech companies? it would have to be that, as Warren already proposed breaking them up. Confiscation of excessive wealth? Criminalizing hate speech? Banning guns? removing gins, as Beto proposed?

    Much of that is actually unconstitutional and not all that popular, and would energize the GOP base.

    Incarcerating Trump? That’s a good one, but 1) it sets a bad precedent and 2) it gives him warning to get a pardon and a comfortable villa in Sochi or Pyongyang.

  3. Tyrell says:

    Beto not in? What’s he going to take away from the people now?

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    This isn’t irony, it’s a bit too off-center for that. But in a sort of irony bank shot it will be Biden who takes Trump down. But it’ll be Hunter Biden.

  5. Teve says:

    Chrissy Teigen just endorsed Liz Warren. Not ground-breaking, but she does have 12 million followers on the Tweety Machine.