The Democratic field in the 2020 election is shaping up to be much smaller than originally anticipated.
While more than half a dozen Democrats have declared they are running for president or launched exploratory committees, it’s a significantly smaller crowd than the estimated two or three dozen that were once mentioned as would-be contenders.
It’s still early in the cycle, and there’s time for more people to decide to get into the race.
But Democrats now say they expect their primary season to include a dozen or so candidates, most of whom fall in the progressive lane that more and more appears to align with the party’s mood.
“The invisible primary separated the wheat from the chaff,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who thinks that if there is a smaller number of candidates, it will be good for the party.
“It makes the debates manageable and gives the serious candidates more time in the spotlight,” Bannon said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had signaled an interest in running for president, announced he would not enter the race last month. So did billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has been involved in an effort to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE. Long-shot candidate Richard Ojeda, a state senator in West Virginia, has already ended his campaign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a favorite among top Obama aides, announced he would not run for president last year, as did former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick Casey21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests Overnight Health Care: Trump says US ‘terminating’ relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE Jr. (Pa.), who some touted as a potential candidate after his reelection victory, said in January he would not run.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a longtime Democrat who was also rumored to run as a Democrat, announced last week he would likely run as an independent.
His rollout was greeted with scorn by a number of Democrats, raising new doubts about the path to victory for a centrist.
Several politicians seen as contenders for the centrist lane, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have yet to announce their intentions about 2020.
Neither have Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests Some realistic solutions for income inequality MORE (D-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.), who both represent Midwest states and are widely seen as having appeal in Iowa as well as the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Democrats are desperate to win back from Trump.
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Both have stopped short of backing the “Medicare for all” proposal from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), which has emerged as an early litmus test for candidates.
Sanders also has not committed to a second bid for the White House, though many believe he will enter the race. Another would-be candidate still on the sidelines is former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Some of the centrist candidates may be waiting to see what Biden, 76, decides to do.
Biden is a front-runner in nearly every poll and if he does decide to run for president, many think others could decide not to get into the race.
One major Democratic donor said that Biden would clear the centrist lane should he decide to run.
If a dozen candidates enter the race, it would still be a relatively large field. But it would be much smaller than the crowd many Democrats had once anticipated.
A number of Democrats also thought the field would at least be as large as the 17 candidates who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
In December, Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillinePragmatic, incremental approach is the best way to reform antitrust law Exclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? Democrats call for special prosecutor to investigate clearing of protesters outside White House MORE (D- R.I.) told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson “We’ll have 30 or 40, probably, great candidates running for president.”
In 2008, eight Democratic candidates competed in the Iowa caucuses and two more candidates withdrew before the contests began.
In 2004, nine Democrats battled in the primaries and one major candidate withdrew before the Iowa caucuses.
A number of big names are already in the Democratic race.
They include big players such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (N.J.), who are all seen as serious contenders to win. Warren so far has only announced an exploratory committee, a step just short of the more formal announcements from Booker and Harris. But it is clear she intends to join the race.
Others who say they are running include former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, New York Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE, Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (Hawaii) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE, the Maryland Democrat who has been in the race for more than a year.
David Wade, a Democratic strategist and veteran of presidential campaigns, said while he doesn’t believe “there was ever room for 20 candidates,” there are still incentives to run.
This includes the possibility that running for president could lead to a vice presidential nod or a Cabinet position.
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE — who also has been rumored to be considering another White House bid — said it’s a natural part of the process for would-be candidates to “flirt with a run” and then decide against it.
“Maybe in part because of how they see the field and focus shaping up,” Reines said. “Maybe because they don’t want to raise money. Maybe because they don’t want to kill themselves going through a brutal process that’s almost surely going to end in defeat.”