2020 Presidential Election Power Rankings – The Democrats

by Tony Wyman


Back in February, we listed the top 20 candidates most likely to win the presidency in 2020.  Since then, a number of the top choices have dropped out.  Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ranked 5th in our early ranking, and Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown, seeded one spot higher than the publishing magnate in 4th, have both called it quits.  So has number 19, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, number 15 in our February rankings.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock hasn’t, as of 3 May 2019, officially announced his candidacy, but he may well have by the time this article publishes.  And so might New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who is expected to announce his candidacy next week even though, as The Daily Beast recently said, “Bill de Blasio unites the country: no one wants him to run for president.”

So, since we are two months closer to the election, 548 days away as of this writing, it is time to rank the candidates again.  This time, however, we are going to do a couple things differently.

First, we are going to omit President Trump. As the incumbent, he’s clearly the front runner in his party and, despite the mixed results from the Mueller report release, he’s still riding a strong economy to be the favorite in 2020 and even though he will have a intraparty challenge from former Governor William Weld, his high approval rating within the GOP make him a lock to win renomination.

Second, we are going to share the rankings of other major media outlets so you can see where our rankings compare. And, third, we are going to throw in the betting odds for each candidate based on how bookmakers in Las Vegas see the race, even though they got the 2016 election as badly as did, well, almost everyone.  (See below for the current betting odds.)

Sports betting chart on 2020 presidential election.
Sportsbettingdime.com said, about their 2020 presidential odds, “Donald Trump’s first year and a half in office has been, by virtually any metric, a complete and utter disaster. The POTUS has attacked the intelligence community, undermined relationships with America’s longest-standing allies, endorsed alleged sex predators, and overseen the forcible separation of children from their families.
Despite his many scathing scandals and controversies, Trump somehow remains the overwhelming favorite to win the next US Presidential election in 2020. The Donald’s current average odds of +110 are 990 points better than his next closest competitor. That isn’t just a gap – it’s yawning chasm – and it could get even wider unless something changes soon.”

How betting odds work: the number beside a candidate’s name is the number of dollars a $100 bet would earn the bettor if the candidate won.  For example, if the number beside Candidate X was 1000, a $100 bet would win $1000, plus the original $100 bet back.  The lower the number, the better the odds the candidate will win. 


Top 5 Democrat Candidates and 15 More On the Bench

So, here we go!  (C = CNN, B = The Bulwark, BI = Business Insider, RS = Rolling Stone, $ = Bookmakers odds)

Number 1 – Joe Biden

(C – 1T, B – 2, BI – 1, RS – 5, $ – 275)  The former vice-president and six-term senator easily weathered accusations that he invaded the personal space of several female accusers in the past without much impact on his campaign.  Despite his clumsy handling of the situation, voters who didn’t punish candidate Donald Trump for his graphic braggadocio about how famous men could assault women with impunity certainly weren’t going to derail Mr. Biden’s chances over accusations he made numerous women uncomfortable by standing too close to them or rubbing their shoulders, uninvitedly.

Why he can win: A couple reasons.  First, among Democrats, other than slowing climate change, fixing health care and providing affordable college education, the most important qualification for their party’s nominee is can he or she beat President Trump. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 56% of Democrats thought Mr. Biden had the best chance to beat Pres. Trump in 2020. “The Democratic primary race suddenly gets real with a fast start by former Vice President Joe Biden and a very clear indication from voters that he is the only candidate who can send President Trump packing 18 months from now,” said the university’s Assistant Director Tim Malloy of the poll.

Second, despite what many people think, early poll results really do matter.  In fact, there are few things more predictive of who the nominee will be more than a year out than early polls.  As FiverThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver put it, “Well-known candidates polling in the mid-30s in the early going are about even money to win the nomination, historically.”

And the mid-thirties is where Vice-president Biden was before he announced his candidacy.  According to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released this week, Mr. Biden’s support climbed from 35% to 44% after his announcement. “The Biden surge is significant and greater than expected,” Co-director Mark Penn of the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, said. “His launch was super successful and he has opened up a significant lead.”

Why he might lose: Overall, Mr. Biden is seen by most pundits as the safe bet, the known entity, the less risky move to take on the president.  But, they caution what might attract voters in November might leave Democrat activists uninspired during the primaries.  “His policy positions are not nearly as popular with voters as he is, a problem some other big-name Democratic candidates don’t face,” said CNN’s Grace Sparks.  The far left progressive group that helped elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress, the Justice Democrats, announced they oppose Mr. Biden’s nomination because he represents the mainstream centrist segment of the party, the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only).

Joe Biden stands in near complete opposition to where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party today. Democrats are increasingly uniting around progressive populist policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free college, rejecting corporate money and ending mass incarceration and deportation. We don’t need someone who voted for the Iraq War, for mass incarceration, and for the Bankruptcy Reform Act while voting against gay marriage, reproductive rights, and school desegregation,” they tweeted, adding, “We can’t let a so-called ‘centrist’ like Joe Biden divide the Democratic Party and turn it into the party of ‘No, we can’t.’”

Number 2 – Bernie Sanders

(C – 1T, B – 1, BI – 2, RS – 1, $ – 275)  There is still a lot of resentment in the Democrat activist base, particularly among progressives for the way their candidate was, in their view, “screwed” out of the 2016 nomination.  “Lost might be a stretch,” the Associated Press quoted South Carolinian Tom Amon about Sen. Sanders ability to recover from losing his state to Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It was stolen from him.”  New Hampshire activist Nicholas Shaw agreed. “If they steal it from him again, I’ll go independent or something other than that,” he told the AP. “The Democratic Party’s on their last edge of me if they kind of try to screw him again.”

Why he can win:  Few candidates can match Bernie Sanders in raising money.  The Vermont senator has hauled in $18.5 million in just six weeks, 99.5% of which came from donations of $100 or less.  525,000 people are on his 2020 donors list already, and they still have a lot more money poised to send Mr. Sanders’ way.

Those grass roots contributors are no doubt rewarding Sen. Sanders for championing popular progressive ideas like a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, and tuition-free college, all policy proposals he supported before those ideas were popular in the establishment Democrat Party circles.  Also, more than 50% of Mr. Biden supporters listed Mr. Sanders as a suitable alternative to the former vice-president if his campaign failed, making the senator likely the largest beneficiary should that happen.

And, unlike many of the lesser known candidates, Bernie Sanders is a known entity.  He won’t have to waste valuable time and resources telling voters who he is, defining how voters should see his candidacy and getting them to buy into his message.  According to a Yougov.com poll released recently, 84% of voters believe they know what Sen. Sanders stands for.  Conversely, even well-known figures like Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have grown to make up on Sen. Sanders.  Only 62% of voters said they understood Sen. Harris’ policy positions while 71% said the same about Sen. Warren.

Why he might lose: 

That familiarity that voters have is a double-edged sword, though, cutting both ways.  Democrat activists worry that too many voters have already made up their minds about Sen. Sanders and what they’ve decided is they can’t vote for him.  In fact, according to Quinnipiac, only 12% of Democrats and those leaning that way believe Sen. Sanders is their best candidate to beat President Trump.

Even NeverTrump Republicans hoping the Democrats will nominate a candidate they can support and they don’t believe that candidate is Bernie Sanders.  Wrote prominent NeverTrumper Sarah Longwell in The Bulwark:

I mean, sure, I don’t know the future. But your Democratic present is looking an awful lot like our Republican past. I’m worried there’s something taking shape in front of you that you can’t quite see. Or maybe you do see it, and aren’t as alarmed by it as I am. Either way, it’s my firm belief that if you don’t do something to change course, America is going to be forced to choose between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2020.

And that’s no kind of choice at all.

She went on to add, in all caps: DO NOT IGNORE BERNIE SANDERS. HE IS GOING TO WIN THE NOMINATION. AND HE IS NOT GOING TO BEAT DONALD TRUMP.

If mainstream, centrist Democrats draw the same conclusion, and from early poll results, it appears they already have, Sen. Sanders’ campaign is going to be an uphill battle against more mainstream, practical and centrist opponents who match up better against the president with moderate independents and NeverTrump Republicans.

Number 3 – Kamala Harris

(C – 3, B – 4, BI – 4, RS – 2, $ – 500) Despite being a first-term senator (just like Barack Obama), Kamala Harris has good name recognition and a strong organization working for her.  The amount of money she’s raised so far, more than $12 million from almost 140,000 donors, shows that her reach is both deep and wide in the Democrat Party, a fact reflected in her platform that is, itself, broad and designed to appeal to a wide-swatch of voters.

Why she can win: No one running does better with other candidate’s supporters than Sen. Harris.  According to a Business Insider poll, between 67% to 72% of supporters of other candidates would be satisfied with Sen. Harris if their prefered choice dropped from the race.  That high level of transferability means that voters supporting other Democrats are open to listening to Sen. Harris’ argument and might defect to the Californian if she starts to show long-term viability in the race ahead.

In addition, Sen. Harris, the favorite of 8% of Democrats and Democrat leaners, is, as Rolling Stone put it, is a candidate who “stands astride the tectonic plates of the Democratic Party – an establishment politician who has adopted a platform responsive to the passion of the grassroots, including a Green New Deal and marijuana legalization.”  Being an establishment candidate gives her credibility with the Hillary Clinton wing of the party – as does the fact Ms. Harris hired a number of consultants from Secretary Clinton’s failed 2016 bid – while her progressive policy positions – including the LIFT Act, a $500 a month tax credit to working families paid for by a tax on the top 1% of earners – appeal to Berners aligned with the party’s left wing.

Why she may lose: The challenge for Sen. Harris will be can she pull support away from Vice-president Biden in sufficient numbers to win key states in the early days of the Democratic primary.  If the answer is she cannot, her campaign is likely to flounder since she’s attempting to position herself as a safe, conventional choice to run against Pres. Trump.  As The Week said, Sen. Harris has the most to be worried about by the impressive early numbers that Mr. Biden posted in recent polls.

Harris was always going to position herself as a safe establishment choice who could appeal to both progressives and moderates and rebuild the Obama coalition. But the beloved and experienced vice president now occupies that space, and she is unlikely to pull support away from him merely by being younger, female and non-white. 

If they are correct and Mr. Biden doesn’t stumble, Sen. Harris’ will have the hardest time differentiating herself from Vice-president Biden, leaving voters no reason to support her over the front-runner. “That this is Biden’s race to lose should be crystal clear, even this far out,” said The Week’s Noah Millman.  “Historically, candidates who polled this well early in the campaign most often became their party’s nominees.”

Number 4 – Pete Buttigieg

(C – 5, B – 5, BI – 9, RS – 4, $ – 450) No candidate made a bigger initial impression on voters than South Bend’s 37-year-old mayor.  Leaping from 20th in our power rankings just two months ago to fourth reflects similar moves reported in other evaluations.  In fact, bookmakers adjusted Mayor Pete’s odds of becoming president by nearly $1000 since March, the most movement of any candidate this season.

CNN said, about his meteoric rise in the polls, ” There is zero debate that the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend is the “it” boy of the Democratic primaries right now. Beginning last month with a star turn in a CNN-sponsored town hall, the buzz around Mayor Pete has only continued to grow.”  And his reply to Vice-president Pence‘s criticism of Mr. Buttigieg’s sexual orientation – “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” – went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Why he can win: Mayor Pete has strong appeal to millennials in the Democratic Party, most of whom respond positively to a progressive platform and who aren’t troubled by the ex-Navy officer’s homosexuality.  But that segment – young voters – is notoriously unreliable at the polls, often not showing up even when races are tight and every voter is needed.  Party officials believe Mr. Buttigieg can win, but only if he capitalizes on his media presence and his early buzz long enough to do well in the first primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa.  Strong showings there, they argue, will propel the young mayor to the top of the heap of candidates and end the question of whether he is a real challenger or just a flash in the pan who peaked too soon.  “If he has a strong showing in one or both of those states, it’s a game-changer,” said founding partner Lynda Tran of 270 Strategies, a campaign management firm, about the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Why he may lose: Other than his age, his military experience, the fact that he went to Harvard, is a Rhodes scholar, plays three instruments and can speak eight languages, not including sign language (which he also speaks), what sets aside Mayor Buttigieg from the other candidates is he is gay.  In a country that didn’t elect a Catholic president until 1960, a person of color until 2008 and still hasn’t elected a woman, it isn’t hard to believe even Democratic voters will hold Mr. Buttigieg’s sexual orientation against him – just in the privacy of the election booth.

Number 5 – Elizabeth Warren

(C – 8, B – 6, BI – 3, RS – 3, $ – 2000)  Sen. Warren was struggling to find footing in the early weeks of the Democratic Party presidential nomination process, finding herself unable to break out and capture media attention from newcomer Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, among others.  But, in recent days, her policy-heavy campaign has not only gotten her the attention of the news media, it’s also captured the interest of voters.

The recent Quinnipiac poll shows the Massachusetts senator climbing to third with 12%, up from a low of just 4% a few polls ago.  Largely responsible for the rise is her aggressive promotion of progressive policy ideas designed to drive enthusiasm up for her campaign, especially among those in the party who believe making capitalism work for everyone, not just the rich and connected.  The Rolling Stone wrote:

The Massachusetts senator is targeting voters who seek progressive purity from their 2020 champion. But unlike Democratic Socialist Sanders, the 69-year-old Warren is a capitalist at heart, having spent a career trying to make the system work for working people. 

That approach includes a plan to wipe out college debt for millions of Americans and to make tuition free at two- and four-year public colleges across the country, as well as to increase Pell Grants by tens of billions of dollars, all paid for by an “ultra-millionaire tax” of 2% annual levy on families with assets exceeding $50 million and an additional charge of 1% on accumulated wealth in excess of $1 billion.  The cost of the senator’s plan is $1.25 trillion over a decade.

Why she can win: Her economic plan, while anathema to high income earners and those who oppose what conservatives call “confiscatory taxes,” carries a real message of relief to Americans struggling, despite good employment numbers, to make ends meet in an economy with high child care, health care and college costs.  Her plans are more than just slogans and platitudes, a fact highlighted by Saturday Night Live that mocked her opponents for lacking details in their plans.  “I am setting myself apart from the other candidates by saying what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it,” said comedian Kate McKinnon, pretending to be Sen. Warren.  “Whoa, what a crackpot idea!”

Why she might lose: Back in December, the Boston Globe suggested in an editorial that Sen. Warren missed her chance to run in 2016.  “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020,” wrote the paper.  CNN’s Chris Cillizza agreed, pointing to her botched handling of her Indian heritage claim and how badly that hurt the senator, even with close supporters.

“Warren was courted by liberals unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy to make a late entrance into the race. Had she done so, she could well have offered a more electable alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, casting herself as a liberal’s liberal who had both fought and worked within the system successfully,” he wrote. “She passed on that race. Now, with several years of hindsight, you have to wonder whether she missed her moment.”

She, of course, has time to fix her past mistakes and make a serious run at the nomination.  Her recent bump in the polls shows she’s made progress.  Now, observers are watching the money.  So far, she’s raised about the same as Mr. Buttigieg, a sum below what a candidate with her national name recognition should expect to bring in.  If that number doesn’t go up by a lot soon, Sen. Warren might be one of the first big names to drop out of the race.

The Rest

Here’s a quick look at where we rank the others in the race.

# 6 – Beto O’Rourke (C – 4, B – 3, BI – 5, RS – 6, $ – 1200) The Daily Beast: “He’s every girl’s worst boyfriend.”

# 7 – Amy Kloubuchar (C – 6, B – 7, BI – , RS – 8, $ – 3300) Credits Pres. Obama for the booming economy.

# 8 – Andrew Yang (C – NA, B – 10, BI – 15, RS – 9, $ – 2000) Pitching $1000 monthly universal income.

# 9 – Corey Booker (C – 7, B – 8, BI – 6, RS – 7, $ – 2500) Too much focus on girlfriend Rosario Dawson.

# 10 – Kirsten Gillibrand (C – 9, B – 9, BI – 7, RS – 11, $ – 6600) Wants to give voters $600 for political donations.

# 11 – Julio Castro (C – 10, B – NA, BI – 10, RS – 10, $ – 8000) Barely made donor threshold to get  debate spot.

# 12 – John Hickenlooper (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 11, RS – 15, $ – 15000) Known well in Colorado.

#13 – Tim Ryan (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 13, RS – 19, $ – NA) Really running for vice-president, just not for Mr. Biden.

#14 – Tulsi Gabbard (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 14, RS – 13, $ – 6600) Only had one full-time staffer through March.

#15 – Jay Inslee (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 16, RS – 12, $ – NA) Running on climate change, trailing opponent with no staff.

#16 – John Delaney (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 17, RS – 17, $ – NA) Running against Mr. Trump on mental health issue.

 #17 – Steve Bullock (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 18, RS – 16, $ – NA) Hasn’t announced. You’ll miss it when he does.

#18 – Eric Swalwell (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 21, RS – 18, $ – NA) Running on gun control. Won’t win Texas.

#19 – Michael Bennet (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 19, RS – 21, $ – NA) Also known well in Colorado. Survived cancer.

#20 – Seth Moulton (C – NA, B – NA, BI – 22, RS – 20, $ – NA) I knew his first name!

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