The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is already heating up, even though there is almost a year to go before the Iowa caucuses.
Here are The Hill’s rankings of where the contenders stand right now.
1. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Harris calls idea of Trump trusting Putin over US intel ‘height of irresponsibility and shameful’ Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report MORE (D-Calif.)
Harris has had by far the best launch of any candidate.
Her speech declaring her candidacy was delivered powerfully before a large and appreciative crowd in Oakland. Her appearances in early states have been well-received, as have her initial round of media interview. More generally, she has effectively presented herself as a fresh and charismatic presence.
Harris has also rolled out some early endorsements including Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeKamala Harris shopping trip stirs Twitter campaign trail debate Newsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president MORE (D-Calif.) and, on Friday alone, both California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Hispanic civil rights icon Dolores Huerta.
There are still plenty of questions that Harris will have to answer — including how her long record as a prosecutor will be scrutinized by a Democratic base focused on questions of police misconduct and racial inequities.
Early front-runners can easily come unstuck, but for now Harris is the most formidable candidate in the race.
Previous ranking on Jan. 1: 4
2. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBarack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Klobuchar, O’Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up Biden: ‘The America I see does not wish to turn our back on the world’ MORE
For all the excitement around Harris, it is the former vice president who still heads every significant nationwide poll of Democratic voters.
In an Emerson poll released on Saturday, he was 10 points ahead of his closest rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign Capitalism: The known ideal MORE (I-Vt.), with Harris third, a further two points behind. A Morning Consult poll earlier last week put Biden seven points clear of Sanders and 16 points ahead of Harris.
In 2016, Biden mulled a run for a long time before deciding against it. His son, Beau, had died from brain cancer in May 2015, and Biden ultimately chose not to force himself thorough the rigors of a presidential campaign.
This time around, The Hill has reported that he is almost certain to declare a candidacy soon.
Biden has weaknesses in the race, including his age — he would be 78 on Inauguration Day 2021— and past votes that sit uneasily with the current Democratic base on everything from the Iraq War to a 1994 crime bill.
But his skills as retail politician, his experience and the loyal service he rendered for eight years to President Obama would all stand in his favor.
Previous ranking: 3
3. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sanders’s long-anticipated entry into the race looks imminent, amid weekend reports that he has recorded a video announcing his candidacy.
Sanders will clearly be a top-flight contender. Polls generally put him second, behind Biden.
He could end up being a victim of his own relative success in one sense, however. His stronger than expected challenge to eventual nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment MORE in 2016 showed there was an appetite in the party for more left-wing policies. Now, several other declared or likely candidates are running on progressive platforms that could blunt Sander’s formerly unique appeal.
He has other problems as well, including the enmity he earned among Clinton supporters in 2016.
In January, he apologized to women who say they were harassed or mistreated by male staff during his 2016 campaign.
His decision to give his own rebuttal to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan’s assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump’s national emergency declaration MORE’s State of the Union speech aggravated some activists who believed he was taking the spotlight from the Democrats’ official speaker of the night, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Age is an issue for Sanders, too. He is 77.
Previous ranking: 2
4. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)
Will he or won’t he?
That’s the key question around O’Rourke, who ignited enormous Democratic enthusiasm in his ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzEl Chapo’s lawyer fires back at Cruz: ‘Ludicrous’ to suggest drug lord will pay for wall Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again MORE (R-Texas) last year.
O’Rourke’s intentions are far from clear. He embarked on a road trip in January, earning some mockery from detractors for his introspective musings in an online diary.
On the other hand, when Trump held a rally in O’Rourke’s home base of El Paso recently, the former Texas congressman headlined his own event nearby, which drew a crowd several thousand strong.
The longer O’Rourke stays out of the race, the greater the danger that someone like Harris could really catch fire. On the other hand, his prodigious fundraising ability — he raised an eye-popping $38 million in 2018’s third quarter during his Senate bid — ensures he would be a serious candidate.
Previous ranking: 1
5. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren set to announce plan for universal child care: reports Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign MORE (D-Mass.)
It’s been a largely uninspiring start to the campaign for Warren, who had been considered one of the leading candidates in the early running.
Part of the problem is the issue that won’t quit — her prior self-identification as a Native American, and her decision last year to take a DNA test to prove that she was telling the truth.
The test affirmed that she had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago. But even some Democrats believe the whole episode played into the hands of Trump, who continues to deride Warren, whom he has long mocked as “Pocahontas.”
Warren is betting that there is a strong electoral market for someone who can combine her professorial in-depth knowledge, especially of financial regulation, with a style that savors confrontation with Trump.
But her initial poll ratings are average at best, fueling suspicions that she is being overtaken by other figures, particularly Harris, who may have a stronger personal magnetism.
Previous ranking: 5
6. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Jussie Smollett case shows media villainizing Trump and his supporters, without proof — again MORE (D-N.J.)
Booker is one of the most recent entrants into the race — he announced on Feb. 1.
The New Jersey senator divides opinion, especially inside the Beltway. To his supporters, he is a likable, energetic candidate who speaks passionately and has the capacity to fire up young and non-white voters with particular vigor.
His detractors, however, assail him as an inauthentic lightweight, who has long been more interested in promoting himself than anything else. That critique stretches from his time as the Twitter-friendly mayor of Newark to his self-proclaimed “Spartacus moment” during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFive things to watch as Barr takes the reins of Justice, Mueller probe Virginia can be better than this Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency MORE.
Booker will likely need to show he can get traction fairly soon, before the expected arrival of other big stars on the stage — Biden and Sanders — threatens to push him toward the margins of the race.
Previous ranking: 7
7. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar defends work record: Yes, I am a ‘tough boss’ Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Klobuchar, O’Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up MORE (D-Minn.)
Klobuchar certainly had an eye-catching campaign launch — she gave a speech declaring her candidacy in the midst of a heavy snowstorm.
The visuals were memorable and underlined Klobuchar’s core message that she is a down-to-earth contender from the heartlands.
But that in itself won’t assuage the doubts about Klobuchar’s ultimate chances of success: Do Democrats really want someone who leans toward centrism as their standard-bearer against Trump?
Recent allegations that she mistreated staff have further complicated Klobuchar’s chances.
Some of the milder accusations against her carry more a whiff of sexism but it is harder to make that case when it comes to the most dramatic allegations, including one instance where she purportedly threw a binder that struck a staff member.
Previous ranking: 8
8. Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSmaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive Democrats brush off GOP ‘trolling’ over Green New Deal GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats MORE (D-Ohio)
Brown has long been a political curiosity: a progressive Democrat who continues to win reelection in the increasingly red state of Ohio by wide margins.
Brown has been building up some momentum with a tour of early-voting states. But it is not clear he is getting into the race, and the likely entrance of Biden — who has a similar, blue-collar appeal — would greatly complicate the Ohioan’s possible path to the nomination.
Previous ranking: 6
9. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren set to announce plan for universal child care: reports Senate Dems introduce bill to prevent Trump from using disaster funds to build wall Klobuchar, O’Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up MORE (D-N.Y.)
Gillibrand launched her campaign in mid-January with an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” on CBS. Sadly for the New York senator, that’s the most memorable thing she has done so far.
Gillibrand always faced an uphill climb toward the nomination. There is nothing to suggest the gradient has become any less steep.
Previous ranking: 10
10. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Bloomberg continues to toy with a bid but it is enormously difficult to see a credible route for the former New York City mayor, despite his vast fortune.
Bloomberg’s business-friendly centrism seems a poor fit for today’s Democratic Party and he is far from a natural politician on the stump, which would hinder him in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Previous ranking: 9