It may not be the largest field of presidential hopefuls in recent memory, but it certainly is the most diverse array of Democrats to challenge the nation’s top job. Currently there are more than twenty Democratic men and women who have made it known they want to be President of the United States. And the number is still growing.
The field is a panoply of men and women, almost all of whom come from high level political backgrounds, but also a few who don’t. There are Senators and ex-Senators; Congressmen and Congresswomen along with former House members; there are Mayors and ex-Mayors; there are Governors and ex-governors; there is also a soon to be announced former Vice President in the race. And included in this group are---for the first time---two potentially serious Colorado names.
The diversity doesn’t stop there. There are five announced women, two African-Americans, one bi-racial candidate, one Asian-American candidate, one Latino candidate and one gay candidate. There is also an array of more ‘traditional’ candidates, as late-night comedians might say, a bunch of white guys. The youngest candidate is 37-years-old. The oldest name in the field is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at age 77. Former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, is still unannounced but expected to join the fray in a matter of days.
“I have not seen a field like this in my lifetime,” said Dr. Rob Preuhs, Professor of Political Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “The closest we’ve come is the 2016 Republican race.” In that contest, there were seventeen candidates, including one Latino, one African-American and a lone woman.
While early polls show Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the top of the pack (the oldest and youngest), Preuhs cautions voters not to fall in love too soon.
Buttigieg has shown well in the early stages of the campaign based on television speeches where he has demonstrated an ability to speak thoughtfully and engagingly as a new voice. He has also been honest about his same-sex marriage and his faith. But Preuhs likes to remind voters that it is way too early. “You have to maintain a media presence and a dominance among party activists,” he said. In 2016 Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the hearts of his voters early and, like Mayor Pete, soared in the polls until reality set in. Walker did not last past the first few debates. “It’s a tricky road to hoe,” said Preuhs.
Because the race is long, a lot of candidates use the early stages to test messages. In the last campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ tested well early and got a then reality-television star all the way to the White House. But not all messages, however well thought out or delivered, have ‘legs,’ the stamina to carry a candidate through.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is already retooling his message of ‘love and unity.’ Only weeks into his candidacy, voters have found it flat and, in a time when Democrats are leaning left like no other time in recent memory, simply empty. Booker’s new stump speech is now “Justice for All.” Time will tell if his new theme has appeal.
With so much diversity in this 2020 field, pundits and pollsters have been asking if the tried-and-true---mainstream white male candidates---are the face of the Democratic future. Preuhs believes it’s a bit early to scratch those names off the list. “Most of these candidates have similar policy goals,” he said. There is also a degree of familiarity and trust for Biden and Sanders, party grey beards.
Other ‘traditional’ candidates also carry messages that have strong appeal among new voters and the base. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, for example, has as his campaign calling card the message of climate change, a popular issue among young Democratic voters. Congressman Eric Swalwell, 40, is appealing for his strident anti-Trump position. The same for Ohio Congressman, 47-year-old Tim Ryan.
The women in this race also bring something new and exciting to young voters. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s attacks against big banks for their role in the economic collapse that propelled Barak Obama to the presidency and her drive to level the financial playing field for all Americans have gone over well. Senator Kamala Harris has won record crowds to her early rallies. Harris has been a tough inquisitor on the Senate Judiciary Committee for her direct and penetrating questioning in confirmation hearings including that of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Amy Klobuchar won praise for her cool and calm questioning of Kavanaugh, as well. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has acquitted herself well with women for her role in addressing sexual abuse in the military.
Congressman Julian Castro, the lone Latino in the crowded field, has served as a Cabinet Secretary under President Obama. His home state of Texas is also critical in 2020 so that could very well work in his favor. Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke is also a Texan, fluent in Spanish, and perhaps the most charismatic candidate in the field. In the age of social media, that is a strong calling card.
Colorado, which has grown as an important state over the last decade, has one announced presidential candidate in former Governor John Hickenlooper. It may soon have another in Senator Michael Bennet. Should they fall short, their candidacies could provide a long-term boost to the party’s ultimate nominee come November 2020.
Twenty-something candidates will be narrowed over the next several months. Money will be the deciding factor. But for those who fall short, they will have established national name recognition and a party loyalty. Vice President or a high-level cabinet position is always a good consolation prize, said Preuhs.