With the 2016 election behind us and the country thoroughly tired of politics, nobody wants to think about what 2020 might bring. Except these 7 Democratic politicians clearly have their sights set on something for the future and they are definitely worth paying attention to in the years to come.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has long had presidential aspirations and they eventually ended up putting him in the White House. Not as president, but as Barack Obama’s second in command and good friend. After a bruising third place finish in the 2008 Iowa Democratic Caucus, Joe Biden bowed out as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton duked it out. Eventually Joe was asked to join the Obama team and graciously accepted his spot on the ticket, and in history. However it doesn’t seem like Joe Biden is done making history and he might have a missed opportunity in 2016 to drive him into the race.
Joe Biden straddled the line between candidate and Vice President for much of 2015 and well into early 2016. For a period many polls placed him firmly in the lead or at least running close to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who at the time were the only serious contenders in the Democratic Primary. However the untimely death of his eldest son Beau Biden convinced Joe Biden to sit out the 2016 primary, a decision he allegedly regretted before election day and even more now that Donald Trump is president.
That regret, coupled with a high profile appearance in New Hampshire, the second state in the primary calendar, it seems Joe Biden might be poised to give a 2016 run serious consideration.
2. Elizabeth Warren
It was long speculated that Elizabeth Warren would throw her hat into the ring for 2016, but that progressive dream was never realized. Draft Elizabeth Warren campaigns were not hard to find around the country, but they never managed to convince her to run. Early polls all had her name and until Bernie Sanders decided to run she seemed like the only truly progressive voice that could potentially run. She didn’t run though and it’s not at all clear she even wants to run.
Elizabeth Warren was reluctant to become a senator and has long pushed aside any speculation that she might be interested in the presidency. However she hasn’t directly pushed aside the idea or batted down much of the speculation, so the door remains very much open heading into 2020.
One problem could be an alienated progressive wing of the party that once called itself the Elizabeth Warren wing but was turned off when she refused to endorse Bernie Sanders on the eve of the Massachusetts primary in 2016. This may come back to haunt her if she is aiming to reclaim the progressive populism that was once her brand and hers alone. It may be an easy wound to heal, but it might prove to be a lot like the broader Democratic Primary, messy a hard to mend.
3. Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders is another contender who has the name recognition and base, but maybe not the desire to run in 2020. He has kept the door in many post election day interviews, but that serves just as much a practical purpose for political power and progressive organizing as it does any real desire to run for president. In late 2015 Bernie Sanders was not at all sure he was going to run for president, if accounts of his own and people around him are to be believed, he wasn’t driven by a desire for the presidency but more a desire for their to be a strong progressive voice in the election. Something he feared was not going to be found with Hillary Clinton scooping up the party apparatus vigorously and early.
Still, Bernie Sanders hasn’t ruled it out and he certainly has the base and infrastructure required to launch a presidential campaign. He’s also got a massive following and a base of young people that come with a built in social media grassroots campaign ready to start back up. That said, he’s very old which doesn’t might not mean much for Sanders personally but could be a liability politically. Plus, it’s not at all clear he actually wants to run. That said, he’s only a few years older than Donald Trump and Joe Biden is of a similar age. Even Elizabeth Warren isn’t as young as her firebrand persona would let on. Given the current pool of potential candidates age might be an easy criticism to deflect, but a lot can change in 4 years, so it’s difficult to tell.
If age is a problem the first three politicians could be in trouble, but the next four will be just fine.
4. Cory Booker
Cory Booker has long been on the Democratic radar and is one of the few up and comers of the party with the name recognition required to begin a campaign without a slow start. He’s also a popular figure within the party and has gotten stage time at the last few Democratic National Convention’s. A move that provided an important sign of things to come for Barack Obama and a sign the party could coalesce behind Booker if need be. However as of late Cory Booker, once a progressive darling of the party, has come under fire for some positions and votes that might put him at odds with the new populist energy in the air.
Specifically early on in Donald Trump’s term Booker opposed a bill that would allow pharmaceuticals to be imported from Canada. A move pushed by Bernie Sanders with enough bipartisan support that Booker’s vote could very well have pushed over the edge. Once Booker opposed the move opponents took to social media and grouped Booker into a group with other Senators who have received a lot of donations from the pharmaceutical industry, which was a bad look for an up and coming politician in a party still reeling from very contentious primary election.
5. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris is another young face with a lot of potential. As Attorney General of California she has high level government experience, which she has furthered by becoming California’s junior senator. It’s not at all clear she has presidential aspirations, but as the Senator from California she comes with a high profile and a lot of potential. Not only that but she is incredibly outspoken and has made a name for herself since election day by consistently holding the Trump administration to task in hearing after hearing. This gave Kamala some much needed publicity for any potential presidential run and has definitely landed her on the radar.
It wouldn’t be the first time a first term senator has jumped to the presidency, in fact it happened in 2008 with some guy named Barack Obama. Many of the arguments used against Barack Obama at the time are almost guaranteed to be thrown at Kamala as well, but hailing from California may dull those attacks because the Attorney General of one of the largest economies in the world is inherently more experienced than other officials from other states. It’s difficult to say though how that will all be perceived.
6. Jeff Merkeley
Jeff Merkeley is a dark horse who would fill the Bernie Sanders progressive lane and made a name for himself when he endorsed Bernie Sanders and became the only sitting senator to do so. Merekely has built a career out of unexpected political moves and while he doesn’t have much name recognition, if there is a base of progressive support looking for a leader in 2020, look to Merekely to try and scoop it up. What separates Merkely from other progressives and potential candidates is an untarnished career and the ability to create his own narrative in a way that other politicians will have a difficult time replicating. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all are known quantities with pretty solidified public opinion. Corey Booker is in the same category to an extent. Kamala Harris would undoubtedly fill a more establishment lane, so in a world without progressive alternatives Merkeley has a real shot to swing a significant portion of the electorate his way.
7. Al Franken
Al Franken is even more of a dark horse than Merkeley because it isn’t at all clear what lane he would fill. Franken could bring any campaign towards the progressive grassroots or fill a more establishment role and ideologically there isn’t much to grasp at to figure out which one is more likely. Still, Franken is coming off of a highly publicized book tour, had even more highly publicized moments during the confirmation hearings for much of Donald Trump’s cabinet, and has national name recognition thanks to his prior career with Saturday Night Live. Franken has the personality and the name recognition. Perhaps more importantly though he’s got numerous lanes he could fill and in a fractious party still trying to heal primary wounds that might be more coveted a position than it seems so far from primary season.