Crowded field as Democrats seek challenger to take on Trump

Crowded field as Democrats seek challenger to take on Trump

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. (Getty Images)

More than 18 months before the next US presidential election, there are 21 Democratic Party candidates vying for the opportunity to challenge Donald Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden became the latest to declare when he threw his hat into the ring on Thursday. There are so many candidates in the race, but we know that most of them have no shot of winning. And they know it too.

Many candidates have already appeared in town hall specials on cable news, answering questions from TV anchors and audiences. Some of them, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, have taken to social media with staged, awkward videos. They are all traveling, particularly to the states that hold the earliest and most important votes.

The first debates will be held in Miami on June 26 and 27, split into two days because of the unwieldy number of candidates. The top candidates have also been competing for donations, raising millions of dollars each month. Those candidates who fail at the early debates or run out of money will drop out of the race early — even before any votes are cast.

There are only a few legitimate contenders, and some of those are already struggling. Both Warren and O’Rourke were once considered favorites but have seen their popularity lag once the public became more familiar with their backgrounds and personalities. Warren is a far-left former law school professor who controversially claimed Native American heritage. O’Rourke, who often celebrates his youthful visage, is of Irish descent, but he uses the Hispanic nickname “Beto” to appeal to a different constituency.

Other candidates are so weak that they probably never expected to win. They likely see the race as a step toward other opportunities. John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, are two candidates who grab little attention and don’t seem to have a shot at winning. They can promote their brands in the hope of a better job in the future — an elected or appointed position in national government or a lucrative private sector opportunity. Others, like self-help author Marianne Williamson and tech executive Andrew Yang, have achieved a small amount of celebrity by running. Then there is Mike Gravel, an 88-year-old former senator from Alaska who says he may run but only to try to influence the policy debates.

Some candidates have been largely ignored and were long shots from the start. These include Wayne Messam, a mayor in Florida and a former collegiate football champion; Tim Ryan, a congressman from Ohio; and John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland. These men would need a miracle to grab national attention.

The top candidates have also been competing for donations, raising millions of dollars each month.

Ellen R. Wald

Other declared candidates entered the race with at least some legitimate hopes of winning but have struggled to gain much recognition or support so far. They still hold some hope because, in past presidential elections, some of these types of candidates received boosts after debates, a particular news cycle or a memorable advertisement. They include Julian Castro, an ex-mayor in Texas and the former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii and army major who is known for independent stances; and a couple of powerful yet indistinct senators in Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand from New York.

The next category of likely also-rans consists of three young men. Pete Buttigieg is the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is known mostly as the home of the University of Notre Dame. He is a navy veteran and a former McKinsey consultant. Though he looks even younger than 37 and has no national political experience, he has recently received significant attention. Rep. Eric Swalwell from California is only 38, but he has gained some fame with his unceasing accusations against Trump in recent years. Rep. Seth Moulton is a 40-year old from Massachusetts who has three degrees from Harvard and served four tours in Iraq as a Marine officer on the front lines — an impressive sacrifice that is sure to win the admiration of some voters.

Finally, there is the crowd of real contenders who are right now devoted to raising donations and avoiding any big mistakes. This includes Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont; Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey; Sen. Kamala Harris from California; and Biden. Sanders and Biden are already quite recognizable and popular, while Booker and Harris seem eager and trained to take on the political fight. These four are the most formidable right now, but the situation can change, since the Democrats will not settle on a choice for at least a year.

  • Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy
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