Unusually for an election against a sitting Republican president, there could be a wide number of Democratic candidates who make a run for the presidency. Indeed, some of the more promising candidates may be the lesser known ones. Among the more interesting potential candidates are Cory Booker, the Junior Senator from New Jersey, a younger African American candidate who has an unconventional campaign style and outsider presentation. He is seen as a candidate who could mobilise all sides of the party as broadly progressive but financially centrist and willing to work across the aisle.
Another intriguing name is Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota – not a big name yet, but known as a politician who gets things done, often through bipartisan cooperation. Klobuchar is seen as a safe pair of hands, calm and reasonable, and her Midwest appeal could help her, but she may not be seen as bold or flashy enough to attract the crowds.
Another Democrat who has been highly successful in a swing state would be Governor Steve Bullock of Montana, with a very strong policy record and experience working with a Republican legislature, though maybe lacking the name recognition or stand-out quality. The other trend to watch is the potential for mayors to run; no sitting mayor has ever been elected President, but there are two who might just try.
some of the more promising candidates may be the lesser known ones
The first is Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, a city larger than 22 states, and a city he won with 81% of the vote, which is certainly significant. He is young, has a successful record, an appealing backstory, and an ability to work with people. He would also bring California’s backing to the table (depending on Kamala Harris).
The other is Michael Bloomberg, billionaire media mogul and former mayor of New York, who has the money and the name recognition, but may struggle to prove his progressive credentials or engage voters if the election turns into a competition between two billionaire white men in their seventies.
Whilst writing this, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced her candidacy. A reasonably big name in the Democratic party and a loud voice against the Trump administration she seems worthy of mention. In some races she would be a serious candidate but if the full field runs, she may be trapped in between Harris, Warren and Klobuchar without, unable to cast herself either as the progressive candidate or the pragmatic one. A number of ideological shifts such as gun legislation may also undermine her.
Losing a Senate race seems a strange way to becoming a potential presidential candidate but if Beto O’Rourke runs in 2020, that would be his story. A former punk-rock guitarist, the 46 year old three-term Texas congressman rose to national attention in a failed bid to win hugely controversial, Tea Party darling Ted Cruz’s senate seat. In March 2017, when he announced he was running for the Senate, he was largely written off as a joke, having lost by only 223,000 votes as a Democrat in Texas, O’Rourke has been catapulted to the big leagues.
As a fresh option, he’s young, affable and seen by some in the party as a natural successor to Obama. His campaign was energetic and social media focussed featuring videos of him skateboarding and breaking with conventional wisdom “on how a Democrat wins Texas” and trying to come across as one of the people. He’s now a Democratic political celebrity and a decent bet to be able to fill stadiums and get out voters. The questions come over his positions and his record. He could be seen as quite a political lightweight; his campaign was notably vague around specifics. His only serious campaign opponent has been Ted Cruz, a man so unpopular that fellow Republican Senator Lindsay Graham once said ‘If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.’
A primary against big-name party candidates would raise questions over his achievements in Congress and his liberal bona fides, despite positioning himself as a figure on the left, his voting record tells a different story. He has frequently voted against his own party in deregulating Wall Street, supporting fossil fuels, and very in favour of law-enforcement. Such positions will give potential candidates to the left of O’Rourke such as Kamala Harris and Cory Booker plenty of mud to throw at him, as will his lack of clear ideology and legislative success. O’Rourke clearly has the style to stand out in what could be a crowded Democratic field, but does he have the substance to win over the party?