With the 2020 Presidential Election fast approaching, candidates have been announcing their runs left, right, and centre (literally and figuratively). MJPS’ Candidate Tracker has the most up-to-date information on the presidential hopefuls. This article will continue to be updated as candidates join and leave the race.
Collaborative work by Evelyne Goulet, Sophia Kamps, Jillian Giberson, Kabir Gupta, and Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu.
Senator Kamala Harris, California
Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for President on January 21, . She has served as Senator since 2016 and is the second black woman to serve in the Senate. Prior to that, she was a prosecutor, serving as San Francisco District Attorney from 2004 to 2011, and California Attorney General from 2011 until she joined the Senate. Her record as a prosecutor is already being brought up as an issue for 2020. Though she has portrayed herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” she defended the death penalty and oversaw the “dramatic increase in the state’s prison population during her years in public office.” However, Harris also pioneered several important progressive programs during her career as a prosecutor, such as job training for first-time offenders and body cameras on police officers.
Harris has moved decidedly left since she has joined the Senate, following a larger trend of progressivism in the Democratic party. Recently, she has embraced programs such as Medicare for All, marijuana legalization, and a halt of corporate donations to her campaigns. She may not currently be a household name, but she has the infrastructure to become one. The biggest challenges for Harris will be reconciling her past as a prosecutor with her future as a progressive candidate, and the fact that her home state is California. For many moderates, particularly from rural areas, California represents the elitism of the Democratic party and could isolate potential swing voters. Also, Democrats are likely to win California’s electoral votes whether the candidate is Harris or anyone else, meaning she doesn’t win the party any new territory in her home state.
Despite all this, Harris has been one of the most anticipated Democratic candidates. She raised 1.5 million dollars in small donations in the first 24 hours of her campaign, demonstrating the enthusiasm of her supporters and the momentum her campaign.
Andrew Yang, New York
Andrew Yang is a former lawyer and founder of the fellowship Venture for America, which “prepares recent college graduates for careers as entrepreneurs.” He announced his presidential candidacy on November 6th, 2017. Yang has no previous experience in politics, though he was named a “Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship” by the Obama administration in 2012.
The main focus of Yang’s campaign is the threat that automation poses to the American economy, and the need to modernize and change the economy in order to survive in an increasingly automated world. Currently, his main policy proposal is the institution of a monthly $1000 universal basic income he calls a “Freedom Dividend.” Universal basic income is not a new concept, and even Hillary Clinton considered making it a part of her platform in 2016. However, Yang is certainly its most radical advocate in the current pool of Democratic candidates. He has even gone so far as to start paying $1000 to a family in New Hampshire to prove how effective his proposal could be.
Another radical proposal of Yang’s campaign is increasing the salary of the president to 4 million dollars (it is currently $400,000), with the condition that former Presidents can no longer accept lucrative speaking gigs or board positions. Yang himself has admitted that his campaign is a long shot and that for him, it is more about getting his ideas out there and into the debate. In an interview of a Freakonomics podcast, Yang explained “someone said to me, ‘Hey, what if Joe Biden takes all your ideas?’ I would say that’s fan-freaking-tastic.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts
Elizabeth Warren, born in Oklahoma, was a Harvard Law Professor before she defeated Republican incumbent Scott Brown to become the first female senator for Massachusetts in 2013.
Warren has long been an advocate for stricter Wall Street regulations and protections for the middle class, a platform that has made her especially popular among young voters and progressives. Her announcement video further cements her focus on middle-class economic interests in the early stages of her presidential campaign, an important move to foster support in key primary states with important middle-class voting blocs, such as Iowa. She is well versed in economic issues, having specialized in bankruptcy law. Warren also helped to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Obama.
Despite popularity among progressive voters, Warren will face formidable challenges to her candidacy. Other well-known potential candidates with populist economic platforms that appeal to Warren’s base, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, are expected to run. Warren will also face members of her own party who have significant ideological differences. More moderate potential candidates will challenge Warren on her progressive stance on issues such as Wall Street regulations.
Warren’s frequent skirmishes with President Trump will also make her the subject of controversy from both parties. Following Trump’s frequent criticism of her claim to be of Native American ancestry, Warren posted the results of a DNA test to prove her background. Not only did this induce ridicule from Trump and right-wing commentators, but also resulted in a damaging backlash from Native American activist groups.
Other critics have focused on her age: Warren would be 71 by the time she would assume office. Younger, charismatic potential candidates would likely appeal to younger voters and to those interested in fostering a generational shift in leadership. Warren’s early announcement seems to demonstrate her campaign’s recognition of the pertinence of securing support and reconciling her record’s blemishes.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii
Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran and Democratic Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, was the first member of Congress to be born in American Samoa and the first to be Hindu. At just 37, Gabbard would be the youngest U.S. President in history if elected. She has already indicated that her campaign will focus heavily on foreign policy and war, as well as healthcare and climate change. Gabbard was first elected to the Hawaii state legislature when she was 21, and made headlines after she left her seat to fight in the Iraq War with the National Guard.
She was elected in 2012 to represent Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gabbard quickly rose to prominence and currently serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She was a key player in the 2016 presidential race: she resigned her seat as vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to support Bernie Sanders.
She is known for occasionally breaking from party lines. For example, in 2015, she voted with Republicans to tighten screening procedures for Syrian refugees. Other controversies from her past will no doubt make her primary run difficult. Notably, in 2017, Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Her meeting with Assad, who is accused of war crimes against his own people drew widespread criticism, including from members of her own party. Critics are also pointing out her past work with her father’s anti-gay organization, that worked to prevent same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Gabbard has already announced her regret for her early anti-LGBTQ+ stances. Her past will be difficult to reconcile with progressive voters. Gabbard is also joining a growing field of Democratic candidates, including many who enjoy greater name recognition, including Elizabeth Warren.
Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
Pete Buttigieg is the current Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and has served in that capacity since 2012. Upon winning election to the Mayor’s office, Buttigieg earned the distinction as one of the nation’s youngest mayors. In 2015, he came out as gay, which makes him America’s first openly gay presidential candidate. If elected, he would be the nation’s first openly gay President.
At this early stage, Buttigieg’s campaign website lacks specific policy stances. Furthermore, the local nature of his office allowed him to avoid controversial national policy fronts. At 37 years old, Buttigieg claims that his relative youth positions him to more deftly and aggressively tackle challenges threatening Americans in the near future. One such issue is climate change. Buttigieg has stated that the issue is “personal” for him, as his generation will live to see its potentially devastating effects.
As an openly gay Democrat, he is undoubtedly poised to take strong pro-LGBTQ policy stances and has stated his support for abolishing the Electoral College due to its “undemocratic” nature. On polarizing hot-button issues like healthcare, Buttigieg has come out in support of Medicare for All. In addition, he criticized President Trump’s use of an Oval Office address to promote a border wall as well as Trump’s rhetoric surrounding immigration. On foreign policy, Buttigieg has expressed support for ending the nearly two-decade war in Afghanistan, but stressed that troop withdrawal must be conducted in a way that does not facilitate a return to terrorist dominance.
Since launching his campaign, he has argued that he is uniquely prepared to manage the US federal government’s executive branch and bureaucracy in contrast to the many members of Congress running against him. Perhaps most importantly, Buttigieg is a Democrat from the Midwest, and believes strength in the region is essential to a viable Democratic candidacy following the 2016 Republican sweep of former Democratic bastions in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. However, like many of the lesser-known candidates, Buttigieg faces an uphill climb in securing the cash of deep-pocketed donors, campaign infrastructure, and name recognition. It appears Buttigieg is trying to avoid identifying himself with neither the left nor establishment wings of his party.
John Delaney, former U.S Representative, Maryland
Before entering politics, John Delaney was a successful entrepreneur, amassing an estimated net worth of 93 million dollars. During his six-year congressional tenureas the representative for Maryland’s 6th congressional district, Delaney earned a reputation as a moderate Democrat. He called himself a “solutions-oriented moderate who wants to get things done,” and received higher marks on bipartisanship than many of his Democratic colleagues. Unsurprisingly, he has pledged to only pursue moderate policies with bipartisan support during the first 100 days of his Presidency, if elected.
As his strategy for the 2020 campaign illustrates, Delaney is bucking his party’s recent leftward drift in favour of a traditional middle-of-the-road candidacy. He seems to want to attract political moderates and independents put off by the Republican’s rightward shift but equally unimpressed with progressives like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Delaney does not support “Medicare for All,” or “breaking up the big banks.” Instead, he favours more traditional Democratic priorities, such as adding a public health insurance option to the ACA, creating a carbon tax, supporting labour unions, and defending Obama-era banking reform from Republican repeal efforts. However, he also supports more progressive ideas. Delaney supports a 15 dollar minimum wage, campaign finance reform, and has strong progressive views on immigration and LGBTQ rights. He also supports the DREAM Act and is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
Delaney’s positions on healthcare leave him vulnerable to attacks from progressive and anti-establishment forces. In addition to this, Delaney is a middle-aged white male with no national profile. It remains to be seen whether there is still space for the “old guard” in a party that is increasingly demanding racial diversity and systemic economic change.
Julian Castro, former Mayor of San Antonio, Texas
Julian Castro has held public office for much of his adult life, first winning a seat on the San Antonio City Council in 2001. He was elected Mayor of San Antonio in 2009 and was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Obama, from 2014 to 2017. Currently 44 years old, Castro was the youngest member in Obama’s cabinet. A young and eloquent Latino, Castro was described as a poster child of the “Obama coalition” and a “rising star” in an increasingly diverse Democratic Party.”
Castro’s political positions place him squarely in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He supports traditional Democratic stances on immigration, gay marriage, climate change action, and gun control. However, it is not immediately clear whether Castro qualifies as a “progressive.” While he recently came out in support of Medicare for All, he quickly added that he would also consider alternative proposals. His stances on the banking sector may also draw ire among progressives. His tenure as HUD Secretary was marked with criticism from the party’s left,for being too soft on Wall Street banks and mortgage lenders.
However, Castro seems to be swiftly moving left. He has embraced the “Green New Deal” and a 70% marginal tax on top income earners championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Nevertheless, no matter how much he pivots, his record as an establishment Democrat is likely to haunt him as he tries to adapt to an increasingly progressive and anti-establishment Democratic Party.
Furthermore, while he spent time in the Obama cabinet, it was in a mostly low-profile position, which prevented him from cultivating a national profile and name recognition. However, Castro can hope to neutralize these disadvantages by using his Mexican heritage to boost turnout among Hispanic voters. He is currently the only Latino candidate in the race. In addition, he may emphasize his experience heading San Antonio’s executive branch, arguing that it will help him manage the federal bureaucracy, given that many of Castro’s opponents are lawmakers.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York
Kirsten Gillibrand entered politics in 2006, when she was elected to represent New York’s reliably Republican 20th House District. She was appointed in 2009 by the governor of New York to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat and won a special election in 2010 to serve the rest of Clinton’s term. She was subsequently re-elected with large majorities in 2012 and 2018. As a Senator, Gillibrand advocated for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the prevention of sexual assault in the military. At age 52, she is younger than many of her colleagues and is widely known today as one of the leading liberal women in the Senate.
However, Gillibrand’s strong conservative record on immigration, gun rights, and other issues while she was in the House may haunt her as her party moves more left. These stances include her opposition to “amnesty” (protections against deportation for Dreamers and other illegal immigrants), and to comprehensive gun control measures that earned her an A rating from the NRA. Upon being appointed to the Senate, Gillibrand swiftly embraced liberal political positions. Following the Democratic base’s embrace of populist economic policies post-2016, Gillibrand has endorsed Medicare for All, paid family leave, campaign finance reform, and even a federal job guarantee program.
Detractors have frequently criticized Gillibrand for being a political opportunist willing to change ideology for political expediency. This criticism is likely to intensify once the primary begins, as progressives she is courting are likely to think she is insincere. In addition, her early calls for the resignation of Al Franken following sexual assault allegations angered many prominent Democratic donors and will possibly hinder her fundraising abilities.
However, Gillibrand’s unyielding stance on sexual assault and her ability to remain politically active despite motherhood are likely to resonate with suburban women who wish to see a strong woman in the White House. In order to win the primary, Gillibrand will need to convince voters that her professed support for populist policies reflects a genuine ideological evolution, rather than a pragmatic and insincere pivot.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota
Amy Klobuchar, the senior senator from Minnesota, entered the presidential race on February 10th. She was first elected to the Senate in 2006, and won her two reelection campaigns in landslide victories. In 2018, she won by 24 points, while Hillary Clinton only carried Minnesota by 1.5 points in 2016. Before entering Congress, she worked as a prosecutor, and served eight years as the attorney for Hennepin County.
In the Senate, Klobuchar earned a reputation as a pragmatist, bipartisan legislator. She has sponsored many bills with Republicans, on issues ranging from sexual harassment to eating disorders. Klobuchar has embraced her image as a deal-maker, saying: “Oftentimes I’ll stand my ground. But if I can find common ground to get something done, I do.”
One of Klobuchar’s main strengths is her electability. In order to win the presidency, the Democratic candidate will need to carry Midwestern states that Hillary Clinton lost. Klobuchar is well-aware of that. In her announcement speech, she declared that she would kick off her campaign in Wisconsin, a state the Democrats lost for the first time in decades this past presidential election. Furthermore, Iowa, where the first caucus is held, is next-door to Minnesota. If Klobuchar were to win or do well, it would help her stand out in the crowded Democratic field.
However, Klobuchar lacks the name-recognition that some other candidates have. She only rose to national prominence during the Kavanaugh hearings and is not well-known outside of the Midwest. Furthermore, despite her reputation for being “Minnesota-nice.” recent reports of staff abuse might come back to haunt her. In her years in the Senate, she has had one of the highest staff turnovers, and reportedly had trouble finding campaign staff due to her tough reputation.
It is unclear if Klobuchar’s reputation as a bipartisan deal-maker will help her during the primaries. On one hand, she could appeal to more moderate voters and those who long for more bipartisanship in government. However, Klobuchar has not embraced many of the popular progressive policies, like Medicare-for-All. This could hurt her, since primary voters are usually more left-wing than the average voter. In order to win the nomination, Klobuchar will have to position herself as the best candidate to win back some states Democrats lost in 2016, and will need to find a way to connect with non-white voters.
Senator Cory Booker, New Jersey
Cory Booker entered the 2020 race on the first day of Black History Month. In his announcement video, images from the civil rights era are contrasted with personal scenes of Booker’s parents and of his relationship with constituents of Newark, where he served as mayor from 2006 to 2013. Prior to entering politics, Booker founded a non-profit organization in Newark to provide legal services for low-income families.
In his announcement video, Booker states he is “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community.” In emphasizing the importance of the “interwoven destinies” of American slaves and abolitionists, veterans and social activists, Booker joins a segment of the Democratic party seeking to appeal to millennial and diverse voters. His campaign mobilizes a political agenda focused on issues such as immigration, racism, climate change and income inequality to appeal to this voter demographic. Booker has joined progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to support the ‘Green New Deal’, a legislative framework that aims to address climate change and create high-quality jobs in green energy.
Booker was the main proponent for a criminal justice bill giving judges more discretion in sentencing drug offenders and increasing efforts to rehabilitate prisoners. Throughout his career, Booker has worked across party lines with Republicans like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Iowa Senator Charles Grassley to address key issues. While this is an asset valuable after the longest government shutdown in US history, he has not refrained from being a passionate interrogator of Trump’s nominees including Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Conservative critics of Booker argue his policy agenda is unrealistic and could add trillions to the federal debt. Booker and other progressive Democrats will be tasked with rationalizing promises such as a federal job guarantee, refundable housing credit programs and a Medicare for All plan. Booker has also faced criticism from the left, particularly because of his ties with Wall Street and corporate PACs. In 2013, of the $8.6 million he raised for his Senate campaign, $531,000 came from financial industry and $700,000 from Silicon Valley. While the source of these donations is not unique to Booker, they segment him from members of the emerging, progressive faction of the Democratic Party like Cortez that obtain the majority of their funding through small-dollar donors.
Perhaps indicative of long term presidential aspirations, Booker polished his progressive label when he announced in 2018 he would no longer accept PAC money. Notwithstanding, Booker faces a healthy amount of resistance on his ride to Washington from both sides of the political aisle and must distinguish himself from the ever-growing list of Democratic candidates.
Beto O’Rourke, Former US Representative, Texas
Beto O’Rourke represented Texas’s 16th congressional district in the US House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. Before that, he served on the El Paso City Council. In the 2018 midterm elections, O’Rourke challenged US Senator Ted Cruz for his Texas Senate seat but narrowly lost in a hotly contested race. O’Rourke’s unabashedly progressive agenda in deep red Texas, as well as his ability to make competitive an election once seen as a shoe-in for Cruz, garnered him immense popularity and nationwide attention.
Although O’Rourke’s political positions position him as a member of the Democratic Party progressive wing, his campaign lacked the confrontational and anti-establishment flare found in the campaigns of several other left wing figures.
Coming out in favour of several progressive proposals championed by Bernie Sanders, O’Rourke supported a universal Medicare for All healthcare system, a 15 dollar minimum wage, and bold campaign finance reforms. He also did not shy away from embracing potentially toxic positions on divisive cultural issues that often animate conservative voters. For example, he stated that he could “think of nothing more American,” when addressing several African American athletes’ decisions to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality. Finally, O’Rourke embraces the traditional positions of the party: he is a supporter of LGBT rights, pro-choice, and pro-immigration.
O’Rourke’s chances of victory are mixed. Although he enters the race with more name recognition than other candidates, he is still an underdog. Critics will no doubt use his short tenure in the House as evidence of inexperience. In addition, some Democrats question the wisdom of nominating a losing candidate to defeat the incumbent president. Polls indicate that enormous amounts of Democrats are willing to prioritize electability over ideological purity.
Furthermore, like many other candidates in the party’s left, O’Rourke will be forced to distinguish himself from a crowded field, many of whom share nearly identical policy platforms. Perhaps O’Rourke’s greatest strength however, is his ability to compete in a state drastically inhospitable to Democrats.
While Texas is not a swing state, if he narrowly wins its electoral votes, which will be difficult, he could afford to lose many of the Rust Belt states that swung to the GOP and delivered Donald Trump the White House. Time will tell if Beto’s appeal to conservative voters in addition to his name recognition will get him across the finish line.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders announced his run in the 2020 Democratic primaries on February 19th. Sanders was born in Brooklyn and was an active organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality in Chicago during the 1960s. His announcement video emphasized his long-term commitment to positions such as universal health care, income equality and free college tuition. While some consider his experience on the presidential campaign trail an advantage, it is important to note that the electoral climate is significantly different this cycle.
Last time around, Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism was not mainstream Democratic politics. However, this election cycle, many other candidates have adopted policies similar to his. The Vermont senator himself acknowledged this reality in his announcement video where he noted that many ideas of his 2016 platform “are now supported by a majority of Americans.” Sanders no longer has a monopoly on policies formerly considered “far left.”
While he has the advantage of name recognition and an existing base, Sanders is likely to face scrutiny due to complaints from women who served as aides on his 2016 campaign. In their complaints, they cited the disorganization and decentralization that left sexual harassment claims unaddressed and salary records that reveal some female staff members made thousands less than male counterparts. Furthermore, some of Sanders supporters have also become disenchanted with the lack of gender representation in his campaign and question whether he is capable of advocating for women’s issues.
Going forward, the Vermont Senator faces two key challenges. First, Clinton’s absence from the trail dismisses the dichotomy that presented Sanders as the more radical alternative. His name recognition also creates a burden of high expectations, and his fundraising and polling numbers will be compared to their 2016 equivalents.
Richard Ojeda, former State Senator,West Virginia
Richard Ojeda announced his candidacy for President on November 12th, just days after losing in his congressional bid for West Virginia’s 3rd district. The bid was considered a long shot, given that it was in West Virginia’s reddest district, which Trump won by 49 points in 2016. Ojeda dropped out of the race on January 25th.
Featured image by David Everett Strickler, via Unsplash.