Hotline's 2020 Power Rankings

Elizabeth Warren has distinguished herself in a crowded field of potential candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Belkin Family Lookout Farm during a town-hall event July 8 in Natick, Mass.
AP Photo/Steven Senne
July 17, 2018, 8 p.m.

The latest Hotline presidential rankings reflect a changing of the guard among the top presidential contenders.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is quietly building a formidable political operation, one that is reflective of someone looking well beyond her own reelection campaign this year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is watching a political organization acting in his name flail in downballot races across the country.

Warren spent Independence Day visiting troops in Iraq with Sen. Lindsey Graham; banked well over $15 million in cash on hand for her breezy reelection; lent critical support to Democrats who won tough primaries; delivered a stump-speech-sounding closing keynote during a liberal think tank’s annual policy-ideas conference; and, after announcing donations to each state party, deployed to host speaking and fundraising events for the Democratic National Committee, access rarely extended to Sanders.

Most importantly, Warren has repeatedly drawn President Trump’s ire, raising her profile for a possible 2020 clash.

Warren has done more over the past several months to look like an early front-runner than any other presidential prospect. That doesn’t mean all that much for a campaign where grip-and-grin retail politicking matters as much as early positioning. But it puts her in pole position for the all-important invisible primary.

1. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (Previous ranking: 5)

She checks many important boxes for Democrats. She’s a populist progressive. She’s about as stark a contrast as you can imagine to Trump. And at a time when women are powering the Democrats’ electoral advantage, it’s a good bet that Democrats again will be looking to break the presidential glass ceiling in 2020. Her biggest challenges: Like Sanders, she’ll face hurdles winning over the party’s African-American voters, and she’s not the most charismatic candidate. If she runs, her national celebrity will be tested in Iowa and New Hampshire, where personal interactions are more important than national hype.

2. Sen. Kamala Harris of California (1)

Harris’s bump down a slot is solely a reflection of Warren’s aggressive national positioning. We expect Harris, a coveted surrogate on the campaign trail, to be a leading contender for the presidential nomination if she runs. She has paid particular attention to candidates in her home state—where the fundraising opportunities would provide her a notable advantage in 2020—and to candidates of color nationwide. The freshman senator’s already-burgeoning profile has a chance to expand further with another Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and, while also drawing Trump criticism, she continues to be a leading voice of the Left on immigration.

3. Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (Not ranked)

Landrieu has so much upside in a muddled 2020 field that he’s rocketed into the top three. He’s got a unique appeal to moderates with his Southern charm, while rallying progressives over his civil rights record as mayor. And in a field bereft of governors, he’s one of the few executives running that has national appeal. Pundits are already taking notice: He was interviewed for a glowing Politico profile this month, refusing to rule out the possibility of a presidential run. One issue that distinguishes him from the field: presiding over an education miracle in New Orleans, where the city’s all-charter system has produced remarkable results for lower-income students.

4. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (2)

Sanders hasn’t shown any signs of slowing his presidential prep work, with this past weekend providing a case study in his political dexterity. The 76-year-old independent made trips through three battlegrounds—Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—in one sweep, and returned to Washington to deliver a digital town hall on “CEOs vs. Workers.” But for his sustained movements, he’s dinged this round for his proximity to the reported mismanagement of Our Revolution. While the group is officially unaffiliated with Sanders, possible rivals may use its troubles to try to knock him down a peg.

5. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey (6)

If there is one Trump jab that can’t land on Booker, it’s that he’s low-energy. Every time he’s asked about 2020, Booker insists all of his political focus is on helping Democrats win races this year. Beyond a consistent presence on the stump for candidates and incumbents, the senator is an A-lister on the state-party-fundraising-dinner tour, from Montana to Virginia and, later this summer, Texas. On Capitol Hill, he’ll sit next to Harris in the Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and he has persistently sought to tackle issues surrounding racial injustice. It’s not hard to see him continuing to steadily climb on this list.

6. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio (3)

Brown is intently focused on his Senate reelection campaign, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in a possible presidential run. His populist views on trade are aligned with the president’s protectionism, yet he’s reliably liberal on every issue of importance to national Democrats. If he wins decisively in a state turning away from Democrats, it would be a major selling point for his record of winning over blue-collar whites in Trump country. But given that he’s not courting national attention or overtly preparing for a presidential campaign, he slips down on the list for now.

7. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (7)

As more women claim victories in 2018, Gillibrand—most recently known for her leadership on women's issues—keeps looking like a possible presidential contender. The 51-year-old is now in lock-step with nearly every progressive policy proposal circulating within the party, but she could face friction over shifts in her past positions. She was the first in the Senate to call for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sharp contrast from her Blue Dog stance in the House.

8. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Not ranked)

Cuomo has the most at stake in 2018, but the primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon has also helped him ramp up fundraising—he had $31 million on hand by July—and for the first time kick-start the kind of small-dollar contribution effort that is critical to a presidential campaign. This race, and his 2014 primary against Zephyr Teachout, have also pushed him to the left. But beyond gauging whether he is sufficiently progressive, voters will also be looking for someone who can stand up to Trump. He’s dealt with scandals around his administration, but could match the president’s New York swagger.

9. Former Attorney General Eric Holder (Not ranked)

There aren’t many true-blue Barack Obama loyalists in the potential field, even though the former president still captures the imagination of the base. Holder is the exception to the rule. He’d run with Obama’s blessing, even though he wouldn’t get a presidential endorsement in a crowded field. He lacks the requisite charisma to be a serious presidential contender, but he’d potentially have a perfect message: He’s running to restore Obama’s legacy. And he’s already looking like a presidential candidate, making an early-summer stop to New Hampshire to test the waters.

10. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts (10)

Being snubbed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as “inconsequential” could be a good thing. Pelosi’s dig at Moulton, who has raised more money for Democrats this year than the vast majority of his colleagues, may bring expanded name recognition to the 39-year-old congressman known mostly for his efforts to recruit fellow veterans to run for office. He’s already visited Iowa, along with other battlegrounds such as Ohio and Michigan, and with a trip to New Hampshire scheduled for later this month, he’s again earned a spot in the one-eye-open sleeper category.

Wildcard: Former Vice President Joe Biden

If Biden runs, polls indicate he would skyrocket to front-runner status. He would land a top spot in our ranking too, but after passing in 2016, we’re skeptical that he’ll take the leap a year from now.

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