Whether you consider the beginning of the U.S. presidential campaign the date of the first campaign launch, the Iowa caucuses, it is a staggeringly long process.
The Democratic field has surpassed by a comfortable margin the rather hefty total of 17 who vied for the Republican nomination in 2016, which resulted in Donald Trump’s unprecedented campaign win. With such a potentially large group, a number of themes and divisions are likely to emerge among Democratic hopefuls: centrist versus left-leaning, D.C. insiders versus outsiders, youth versus experience.
Some lesser-known politicians have signalled their improbable bids for president, including former U.S. congressman John Delaney from Maryland, self-help author Marianne Williamson, Miramar, Fla., mayor Wayne Messam and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and activist.
Eric Swalwell, who participated in the first official debates in June, was out of the race by the time the next debates took place a month later. By contrast, the first Republican contender to call it quits in 2016, Rick Perry, did so in September 2015.
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper followed suit on Aug. 15. He said he would consider a bid for the state’s Senate race next year, as the Democrats wrest control of that body from the Republicans.
The next major debates are Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston, and it is unclear how many of the candidates will qualify for a spot on the stage as the Democratic Party tightens the bar for qualifying for the stage.
The field heading into the campaign for the Nov. 3, 2020, vote also does not include Hillary Clinton.
Clinton — who received more votes in the 2016 presidential election than any candidate in history not named Barack Obama — ruled out another campaign during an interview in March 2019.
Here’s some background on the potential major contenders. Read all of the profiles or click on a name to go straight to their profile:
New York City mayors have long had an eye on the White House: Michael Bloomberg toyed with running for president a few times but never committed, while Rudy Giuliani and John Lindsay ran but failed to secure their party’s nomination. Despite that dubious history, current mayor Bill de Blasio announced his candidacy on May 16.
De Blasio would be seen as a progressive, and he has vowed to champion the working class in his campaign. He has previously bucked Trump administration views on climate change and health insurance by pushing local initiatives on those issues.
Republicans and conservative media outlets are likely to tar de Blasio for his belief in government solutions to societal problems, as well as for his Clinton associations — earlier in life, he worked on campaigns for both Bill and Hillary.
Pub trivia: De Blasio would be the first Italian-American president, and at six-foot-four, he would likely be the tallest president in history.
Bullock’s comparatively late entry, on May 14, was due to the fact he wanted to see out the spring session of his second term as Montana’s governor. Previously state attorney general, Bullock has raised his national profile in recent years by being one of the foremost critics of special interest money in political campaigns, and as current head of the National Governors’ Association. He’s also made several stops in key states Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bullock can tout the fact that he was the only Democrat to win a 2016 governor’s race in a state that Trump carried in the presidential election. He’s governed in a legislature full of Republicans; in an age of partisanship, one of them told Politico that Bullock “wouldn’t suck” as a presidential candidate. He may get tagged as a centrist candidate on some issues, but other positions have appealed to progressives – he vetoed attempts to restrict abortion rights, for example. One of his last acts as governor was a veto of a concealed-carry bill. It’s an issue with personal resonance – Bullock believes in the right to bear arms, but also saw an 11-year-old nephew killed in a playground when another boy shot him.
Pub trivia: Bullock would not only be the first president from Montana, but the first from the “Mountain West” states (i.e. the states that exist between Texas and California).
On May 2, Michael Bennet became the 21st candidate for the Democrats, and the umpteenth one with some kind of law degree. He has served Colorado as senator since 2009, and is making his bid despite a recent prostate cancer diagnosis (he had surgery and said he’s now cancer-free).
Before becoming a U.S. senator, Bennet had a turn in the State Department under Bill Clinton and held private- and public-sector jobs in Ohio and Colorado, including as superintendent of the Denver public school system. It will be fascinating to see Bennet tussle with fellow candidate John Hickenlooper on a debate podium — Bennet served as chief of staff in 2003-2004 to Hickenlooper during the latter’s stint as governor of Colorado.
Pub trivia: Bennet gained media attention this past January for his heated response on the Senate floor to Republican Ted Cruz over the government shutdown. Bennet has one thing in common with the Calgary-born Cruz: He is aiming to be the first president to fall under the natural-born citizen clause of the Constitution, which allows for foreign-born candidates in certain cases. Bennet was born in India, the result of his father’s career as a U.S. diplomat.
Biden has a compelling story of overcoming personal loss, and brings tons of experience to bear — he was a senator for more than three decades and a two-term vice-president under Barack Obama. Biden lives in Delaware, but was raised in Scranton, Penn., and his working-class charm could help swing much-needed Pennsylvania back to the Democratic column. On the other hand, he has been prone to verbal gaffes, and ran two unsuccessful presidential campaigns (1988, 2008).
His touchy-feely ways have recently come under renewed scrutiny in the #MeToo era, as well as his prominent role in grilling Anita Hill, who accused future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991 hearings.
Biden, after much speculation, released a video on April 25 announcing his intention to run.
Pub trivia: Biden would be days shy of 78 on election day. If he wins, it would make him by far the oldest president to take office.
Moulton, who announced his intention to run on April 22, has never been shy about expressing his opinion. A Massachusetts congressman since 2015, he has criticized the Trump administration on its policy in Syria and Afghanistan, the futility of America’s Cuban embargo and the pernicious influence of China’s Confucius Institutes in North American schools. Moulton also vocally opposed fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker.
As a Marine, he served four tours in Iraq — a war he originally opposed — and then helped set up the Serve America Victory Fund, which has raised money for other veterans seeking political office. That means that even if he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, Moulton could be a candidate for a key foreign relations or military post.
Pub trivia: While in Iraq, he co-hosted a local television show with his interpreter called Moulton and Mohammed. Mohammed Harba later stayed at the home of Moulton’s parents after arriving in the U.S. to attend Harvard.
The representative for Ohio’s 13th congressional district dipped his foot into the Olympic-size pool of Democratic candidates on April 4, 2019. The former high school quarterback has been in politics nearly all his adult life, including a stint as an aide to perhaps the most Trump-like Democratic politician of the past, Jim Traficant. A short stint in state congress was followed by his election to the U.S. Congress in 2003. Ryan possesses a law degree but never practised, and has sponsored legislation on a number of issues related to health care and veterans. Not unlike Tulsi Gabbard, he hasn’t always cozied up to the leadership of the party: He tried, unsuccessfully, to unseat Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader in 2016 — recent enough that some party donors aren’t likely to forget.
Pub trivia: Just your average meat-and-potatoes politician from the Rust Belt? Not so fast. Ryan has published books on how mindfulness and meditation can “recapture the American spirit” as well as on the connection between industrialized food and negative health consequences, entitled The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm.
The former congressman took many by surprise last year with a charismatic, competitive campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas (which he lost to Ted Cruz). Many Democrats have been high on O’Rourke’s presidential chances, pointing to his ability to attract donors large and small, and the fact that he did so well in a state that leans further right than the rest of the country. As a former El Paso city councillor, O’Rourke understands the centrality of issues regarding immigration and the southern border in national politics.
O’Rourke announced with an online post on March 13 that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination.
Pub trivia: His actual name is Robert O’Rourke, and he was the bass player in a little-known punk band called Foss.
Inslee has been governor of Washington since 2013, but also has D.C. experience, with multiple terms as a congressman representing the Evergreen State in the 1990s. He raised his national profile during a White House meeting on school shootings last year when he told Trump directly, “we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening” to teachers.
He announced his candidacy in a video on March 1, declaring “I am the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s No. 1 priority.”
Pub trivia: There has never been a president from the state of Washington.
The self-described democratic socialist won over 20 states and territories during the 2016 Democratic primaries, which is why he can’t be overlooked. As well, the second contest is in New Hampshire, adjacent to Sanders’ home state of Vermont, where he won by 22 percentage points over Hillary Clinton. But it’s questionable whether Sanders would do as well in a crowded field as in a race when he was the only serious threat — sorry, Martin O’Malley — to a very establishment candidate in Clinton. As well, Sanders turns 78 in 2019, which would make him 87 and change by the end of a two-term presidency.
Pub trivia: In addition to his Jewish heritage, a Sanders presidency would be noteworthy because he is an independent (although he caucuses with the Democrats).
If Klobuchar were an athlete, sportswriters would trot out “she just wins” clichés to explain why she’s a strong contender. The Minnesotan just came off the most competitive of her four U.S. Senate elections in November — and her margin of victory was 24 percentage points.
A lawyer, she also won two elections for district attorney in her county and bet on the right pony in the last two contested Democratic presidential primaries — backing Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. She has co-sponsored bills with Republicans in the Senate and will be perceived as one of the centrist candidates in the Democratic race.
Her composure was on display during last year’s contentious Supreme Court nomination hearings, when Brett Kavanaugh apologized for lashing out at her when she asked if he had a drinking problem in the past.
Klobuchar, who announced her bid on Feb. 10, would look to avoid the same fate of Minnesotans in modern presidential elections: Hubert Humphrey (1968) lost closely, Walter Mondale (1984) did not.
Pub trivia: If nominated or elected, she would overtake Melania Trump and others as the most well-known Slovenian-American. She was also a published author by 22, writing a book, Uncovering the Dome, about the controversial process that saw taxpayers foot much of the bill for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for the Vikings and Twins in the 1980s.
From appearances as a personal finance expert on Dr. Phil beginning in 2003 to her subsequent U.S. Senate career, Warren’s emphasis on pocketbook issues and consumer protections could resonate with voters tired of so-called identity politics. Warren and Trump have traded verbal jabs – she has attacked him for being a “wannabe tyrant” overseeing a corrupt administration, while he’s mocked her claims to Indigenous ancestry. Warren’s profile as a northeastern liberal might, on the surface, seem a challenge in winning over voters in the U.S. heartland, but Warren could play up the fact she was raised in a churchgoing Methodist family in Oklahoma.
Warren officially launched her campaign in the working-class city of Lawrence, Mass., on Feb. 9.
Pub trivia: Warren, married to her current husband (Bruce Mann) since 1980, retains the surname of a previous spouse.
The New Jersey senator is a Rhodes Scholar and a Yale Law grad. Booker has been garnering national attention since his efforts as mayor of Newark (2006-13) to bring back economic opportunity and reduce violent crime. Since reaching the U.S. Senate in 2013, Booker has served on a range of committees, and courted controversy last year by releasing emails that Republicans wanted to remain confidential during the bitter partisan battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
On Feb. 1, he announced his intention to run in a video released on his website: “I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind,” he said.
Pub trivia: Likely would be the first vegan president, and could be the first in a century to arrive at the White House without a spouse.
Buttigieg (pronounced BOO-ti-jij), 37, is the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a veteran who served in Afghanistan. The Harvard grad and Rhodes Scholar announced Jan. 23 that he has launched an exploratory committee in a video he posted to Twitter. The relative unknown says he represents a new generation of leadership with fresh approaches to the country’s problems.
“When it comes to experience right now, nothing could be more relevant than leading one of America’s turnaround cities,” he told reporters.
He did manage to get on the radar of at least one prominent politician. Former president Barack Obama mentioned Buttigieg in an interview shortly before leaving the White House as a young Democrat with a bright future.
Pub trivia: If he wins the party’s nomination, he would become the first openly gay nominee of a major U.S. political party.
Harris, who in 2017 became the second black woman to serve in the U.S Senate, declared her candidacy for president on ABC’s Good Morning America and in a video posted to Twitter on Jan. 21. It appears the 54-year-old is attempting an Obama-like play for the presidency, as she is only midway through her first term as a U.S. senator. If anything, she has more impressive bona fides than Obama did when he ran for the top job.
Harris was California’s attorney general, worked as San Francisco’s district attorney and has been on more prestigious Senate committees (Intelligence, Justice, Homeland Security) than Obama was during his Senate career.
Pub trivia: Harris spent part of her teens in Montreal, attending Westmount High, while her mother worked at McGill University.
Gillibrand revealed on Jan. 15 that she was launching an exploratory committee for a White House run. “It’s an important first step and it’s one I am taking because I am going to run,” she said in an interview with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Gillibrand, 52, has a high profile owing to a decade of experience on Capitol Hill. She has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights and has taken the #MeToo mantle as much as any D.C. politician. Gillibrand pushed for the removal of influential Democratic senator Al Franken before a Senate ethics committee probe addressed sexual misconduct allegations against him. This made her unpopular among some Democrats. Gillibrand also said Bill Clinton should have resigned as president over his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky — a fascinating fact given that Hillary Clinton wrote the foreword to Gillibrand’s 2014 book, Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless, and Change Your World.
Pub trivia: If elected to the highest office, Gillibrand would be the second straight president with a spouse born outside of the U.S. (her husband was born and raised in Britain).
Former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro announced his run for the presidency on Jan. 12. Despite being just 44, he possesses nearly two decades of political experience — as San Antonio councillor and then mayor, and then as Barack Obama’s housing secretary. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Castro is vying to become the first Latino-American president.
Castro called for new moral leadership in the White House, and took aim at the administration’s policy last year of detaining some migrant children separately from their parents, just days after Trump contemplated using emergency powers to deal with the number of applicants seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border.
“There is no way in hell that caging babies is a smart or a right or good way to do it,” said Castro. “We say no to building a wall and say yes to building community.”
Pub trivia: Are you ready for a president with an identical twin? Castro’s brother Joaquin is a U.S. congressman representing Texas’s 20th district — and the spitting image of his sibling.
Gabbard, 37, told CNN in an interview that aired on Jan. 12 that she has decided to run for president, and she made it official on Jan. 24.
On Election Night 2012, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow hailed incoming Hawaii congresswoman Gabbard as being “on the fast track to being very famous some day.” She was a rare commodity for Democrats in the House, a female military veteran who served in Iraq (2004-2006). Gabbard can’t be accused of trying to win popularity contests within her party. She endorsed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, criticized America’s “endless wars” overseas and controversially met with Bashar al-Assad while on a Middle East trip in early 2017, not advising Democratic leaders beforehand.
While her salty put-down of the Trump administration for its response to the killing of U.S. citizen Jamal Khashoggi was widely noted, previous comments Gabbard has made on same-sex marriage rights and Islam have invited criticism from progressive party members.
Pub trivia: Gabbard would be the youngest president at inauguration, the first modern president not born in the 50 states — having been born in the U.S. territory American Samoa — and the first Hindu-practising president.
Out, then in
- Tom Steyer, billionaire who’s funded a bid to have Trump impeached, reconsidered on July 9, 2019.
In, then out
- California congressman Eric Swalwell, ended campaign on July 8, 2019.
- Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper packed it in on Aug. 15, 2019.
Definitely not running
- Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels.
- Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
- Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
- Former secretary of state, Democratic nominee for president in 2016 Hillary Clinton.
- Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder.
- Ex-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
- Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
- Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.