Hotline’s 2020 Power Rankings

This is our first look at who is best positioned to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at podium, cheers health care workers to save the Affordable Care Act across the country outside LAC+USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. The rally was one of many being staged across the country in advance of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20. Trump has promised to repeal and replace the health care law, and the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday passed a measure taking the first steps to dismantle it.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Josh Kraushaar, Hanna Trudo, Adam Wollner and Kyle Trygstad
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Josh Kraushaar , Hanna Trudo and Adam Wollner Kyle Trygstad
Dec. 12, 2017, 8 p.m.

We don’t claim to have a crystal ball for what the Democratic field will look like in a couple of years. But The Hotline pays obsessive attention to the moves of numerous prospective challengers to President Trump—a list that ranges from past presidential contenders to the many up-and-coming officeholders who dream of holding the highest office in the land.

The inaugural edition of Hotline’s presidential power rankings is our best, first guess at who’s most likely to end up as the 2020 Democratic nominee. It’s based on reporting from plugged-in operatives, early staffing moves that suggest national ambitions, and our assessment of the prospects’ innate political abilities.

On one issue, we disagreed fiercely: Whether Democrats are more likely to prefer a fresh face to create a sharp generational contrast against Trump or turn to a seasoned, aging pol like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. We ended up splitting the difference, mixing our top tier with promising prospects, capable veterans, and those two old lions dominating Democratic conversations right now.

But it’s important to look deep down our list of contenders. Any one of these 10 Democrats has a chance to be nominated, and there are a few left off who could credibly make the cut. (Sorry, Steve Bullock.)

1. Sen. Kamala Harris of California

Less than a year into her first term on Capitol Hill, this 53-year-old former attorney general and district attorney from Northern California already looks poised to capture the attention of rank-and-file Democrats even amid a crowded primary—much like the most recent Democratic president. While still early, no other Democrat may be able to both excite the base and prosecute the case against the reelection of Trump. Harris has already been vocal on health care, women’s issues, and Charlottesville. And as the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, Harris would provide a stark contrast with the Trump administration’s immigration policy goals that have infuriated Democrats and could unify a fractured party that may be intent on elevating a woman to the presidency.

2. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

If the nomination was decided today, Sanders would be the favorite. The 2016 primary runner-up has made clear he wants another crack at the White House, and he currently enjoys a stronger base of support than any other potential candidate. But two years from now the 76-year-old, who is still not a favorite of the party establishment, will face a larger, younger, and more diverse field than last time. And keep an eye on the outcome of the FBI’s investigation of Sanders’s wife over a land deal for a college she ran.

3. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio

On paper, Brown is the strongest general election candidate from the party’s leftward wing. He’s progressive on economic issues but is fully comfortable with the cultural progressives that drive the base’s enthusiasm. Despite his doctrinaire liberalism, he’s long won over enough blue-collar whites to comfortably prevail in a state that is moving in a Republican direction. If he wins reelection next year, he’ll have a powerful case that he can pick off the up-for-grabs Trump voters who have drifted away from the Democratic Party.

4. Former Vice President Joe Biden

2016 may have been Biden’s year, but here at the tail end of a national book tour he will likely soon begin seriously assessing his prospects while serving as a top surrogate for Democrats running up and down midterm ballots. Biden’s candidacy could rest on whether he feels he is the lone Democrat capable of steadying a country rocked by Trump’s presidency, and his success banks on a party looking for its face of the future opting for the security of a familiar one from its recent past.

5. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

It’s easy to forget there was a brief but concerted effort to draft Warren into the 2016 presidential contest when it looked like Clinton wouldn’t face a strong liberal challenger. In 2020, Warren may be directly competing for oxygen with the candidate that ultimately claimed that mantle, Sanders. And as is the case with Sanders and Biden, Warren’s age, 68, could be an issue. But given her status as a leading national progressive voice on economic issues, Warren would be a top-tier candidate if she enters the race.

6. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

In his highly publicized appearance in Alabama last weekend, Booker was filling the role Democratic leaders foresaw when he won his own special election four years ago—a top Senate campaign surrogate capable of motivating the base, particularly African Americans. But the numerous appearances he’s also made across the country are also helping the 48-year-old, who built a national profile during seven years as mayor of Newark, to steadily acquire an enviable base of admirers that, combined with a talent for oration, add up to a formidable contender.

7. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York

Could the two most recent occupants of a Senate seat from New York win the Democratic nomination two elections in a row? Gillibrand, 51, has been taking on Trump all year by voting against nearly all of his appointees and as a leading voice on issues that disproportionately affect women, particularly sexual harassment. The latter led to a Tuesday morning Twitter exchange that could only burnish Gillibrand’s image in the eyes of the base, even if she lacks the progressive bonafides of Warren.

8. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

No mayor has ever been elected president, but between traveling to battleground states, launching a political action committee, and turning down a bid for California governor, the 46-year-old from the country’s second-largest city has shaken a lot of hands outside the state this year. Garcetti, a Jewish American of Mexican and Italian heritage, faces a serious threat in fellow Californian Harris, whose voter pool he would have to wade into significantly.

9. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut

Of all the senators on this list, Murphy probably garners the least amount of White House buzz. He even ruled out (for now) a 2020 bid in October. But Murphy has plenty going for him should he opt to test the waters. While largely untested on the national stage, the 44-year-old would be one of the younger members of the field and has proven to be an effective communicator on a wide range of issues—from guns to health care to foreign policy. Consider Murphy a good dark horse bet.

10. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts

Moulton is the sleeper on this list, given his low profile and short political resume as a two-term congressman. But if Democrats are looking for someone who boasts a biography that appeals to moderates—a distinguished military record and standing up to Nancy Pelosi—Moulton would be a compelling choice. He’s already built chits with leading congressional recruits, while spending a little time in Iowa to spread his message. Still, leaping past a dozen ambitious opponents will be far more challenging than unseating an incumbent in a congressional primary, as he did in 2014.

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