The 2020 Primaries: A Guidebook

They’re starting early.  And there’s so darned many, it’s getting very hard to keep track without a cheat sheet.  So… here’s my cheat sheet.  Use and enjoy.

Incidentally:  These judgments are partly subjective, so please tell us your own thoughts.  (Unlike Fox, MSNBC, and CNN, I’ll admit I’m biased.  Also unlike them, I’m not being bribed to be biased.  Though I am open to donations…)
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I’m ranking prospective candidates in order of party and then popularity, using FiveThirtyEight’s poll models but my own personal spin and interpretation.  Those who have eliminated themselves from the race will collect at the bottom of the lists.  Expect regular updates; come back often.


Joe Biden — Now that he’s finally running, he’s in the lead.  If the DNC picks Uncle Joe, they’re picking a loser — and there’s nobody with more experience backing a loser than the DNC.  In a way it’s too bad; he’s experienced and has name recognition, plus would carry Pennsylvania in a general election.  However, he’s charisn’tmatic, very retired, and has a reputation of either senility, creepiness, or alcoholism — depending who you ask; according to Uncle Joe, he’s never had alcohol in his life.  Given the alternatives, however, I think I’d prefer alcohol.
[Positions:  Establishment party line; socially very liberal; heavily pro-union.  Calls Obama by his first name.]

Elizabeth Warren — We should be so lucky.  Economically brilliant, plenty of name recognition, but not a natural politician, and not very charismatic.  She doesn’t mince words and is far too self-directed to be a smooth candidate.  She’ll either bow to her managers or trip over her own feet; my bet, alas, is on the second option because she has the classic flaws of intellect.  Her biggest tactical error so far was turning down PAC and corporate money — essential for a principled campaign, but at the same time tantamount to political suicide.  She’s my personal favorite candidate.
[Positions:  Corporations should exist to benefit the public.  In favor of campaign finance reform, common sense gun control, numerous social programs, and a strong economy.]

Bernie Sanders — Another known loser.  I love Bernie Sanders for his zeal, energy, and uncompromising values, but the public perception is that he’s too old, and he knows it.  Plus, like Biden, the party’s rejected him before and will probably do so again.  On the other hand, his endorsement will make a huge difference, particularly if he’s allowed to stump for his chosen candidate.  My bet is he’s the kingmaker this time around.
[Positions:  Socialism.  Government pays for college, healthcare, and most other human needs.]

Kamala Harris — This is the present DNC party machine’s pick, the Anti-Tulsi.  She may well carry her native California if she can last until Super Tuesday, and that’s huge; right now, she’s still a contender.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, she’s parochial; her concerns and policies are California-centered, which would limit her in the primaries, in the general, and in office.  As well, she lacks experience in federal-level government.  Give her eight more years in the Senate and she’ll be a lot better prepared.
[Positions:  Tough on crime; weak on economics.  Historically in favor of for-profit prisons and the War On Drugs.  Opposes blanket gun seizures.  Reform/Establishment.]

Pete Buttigieg — (buddha-jheejh) Outside of South Bend, he’s little-known, but that’s rapidly changing.  He’s the Midwest’s answer to Justin Trudeau: smart, clever, competent, and charismatic — all around, perhaps the best person for the job apart from Warren.  On the other hand, all he brings to the electoral table is Indiana… which ain’t much, but it’s more than most.  Add to this his Stepford-like whiteness, and the identity politics that drive most DNC politics will work against him.

I’ve been avoiding mentioning that he’s gay because it didn’t impact his stance on issues and frankly is none of our business, except now he’s using it as his ticket into pseudo-diversity.  Which makes him a political realist; it’s a smart move, and I approve.
[Positions:  Reasonable approaches to gun control, single-payer healthcare, climate change.  Can speak Norwegian.]

Beto O’Rourke — (behtto) DINO populist and a known loser.  It’s good that he’s running, if only to generate name recognition for his future Senate career.  In the general, he’d likely carry the States Formerly Known As Mexico, which would be nice for him; he’s also gotten free press from Trump, which gave him a temporary popularity boost.
UPDATE:  Publicly eviscerated himself on live television.  Eager to seize guns; probably cost him Texas.
[Positions:  End the War On Drugs; common sense everything.  Woke as hell. Wants to spend twice the national budget to fight climate change.]

Tulsi Gabbard — She’s brilliant, a maverick, and arguably one of the most qualified potential candidates in the arena. An active conservative when young, she’s become a champion of the rights of the individual through her career. As a war veteran, she’s used the power of her office to attempt to reduce American military adventurism.

Gabbard is highly intelligent, acts on principle, and researches every issue thoroughly before deciding how to act. In order to support Bernie Sanders in 2016, she resigned her position in the DNC. Naturally, she’s despised by her own party’s leadership, which is working hard to undercut her campaign. Her events have been preempted; her crowds have been redirected. At present, I honestly think she’s only still in the race as the potential replacement for Bernie Sanders if he should suffer a health crisis on the campaign trail.
[Positions:  Anti-establishment.  Pro-military and anti-interventionist, a rare combination.  Environmentalist and socialist, but pragmatic.  Strongly in favor of campaign finance reform.  Running on the “Spirit of Aloha” platform.]

Tom Steyer — Just announced, after deciding in January that he wouldn’t.  Billionaire who has historically funded entire Democratic campaigns, this is the pentultimate one percenter.  Has pledged $100 million of his own money to the primary.
[Position:  Impeach Trump.]

Cory Booker — He’s a hockey puck.  He’s also a party hack.  On the other hand, he does have name recognition, which ain’t nothing.  On the third hand, he brings New Jersey’s electoral votes with him, which for a Democrat actually is nothing.  He can’t win, but he does have some worthwhile things to say — particularly about criminal justice reform.
(no official position statement on his website; apparently, he’s running on personality)
[Positions:  End the War On Drugs; cap and trade taxes to pay for climate change programs; a universal jobs guarantee; affirmative action.]

Amy Klobuchar — No, she didn’t star on Parks & Recreation, but she could have filled in with no trouble. Smart, talented, liberal, and weak on personal liberty, she’s a moderate’s nightmare. Many will dislike her because of past association with the Clintons. I dislike her because of her deliberate preference for a shallow vocabulary; intelligence shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of.
(Note: No official position statement on her website; hopefully, she’s not running on personality)
[Positions: Bipartisan self-righteous. Strongly in favor of healthcare reform; highly liberal policy expert. Very intelligent; not at all a nice person. But then, a president doesn’t have to be.]

Julián Castro — (hoolee-ahn) Moderate and flexible, Castro is charismatic and has good party connections.  In a general election, he could carry Texas if he were to moderate his stance on gun control; this makes him uniquely valuable in the Electoral College math.  However, like so many others, he’s lost in the crowd for the top slot.  Great VP candidate, though.
(no issues page; instead, several issues posts here:
[Positions:  Anti-Trump progressive pragmatic quasi-socialist environmentalist.  Immigration and campaign finance reform are two of his strongest positions.]

Andrew Yang — This guy’s an unknown, running on the basic income platform.  I think he’s just there to push the narrative while tax-deductibly getting himself some free advertising, but that’s not an entirely bad thing.  Has an opinion on every issue imaginable.  If he had a chance in hell, I’d like him for the job, but right now he doesn’t.  On the other hand, he’s got a great chance to qualify for the June debates, unlike several of his competitors.
[Positions:  Universal basic income, plus too many others to mention.]

John Delaney — Millionaire self-funded hockey puck.  He’ll score over one percent in Iowa, but only because he’ll have spent the better part of three years campaigning there in person.  Other than that, he’s a cipher and richly deserves to be.
[Positions:  Pro-Delaney; anti-Establishment.  Liberal centrist; pro-corporate; pro-partisan.  However, has several detailed platform planks.]

Also Running (or not):

Ben Gleib — His legal name is Ben Gleiberman; if you have to write him in, you should know this.  Well-known comedian with a streaming special.  Witty and intelligent, he’s nevertheless a completely inexperienced outsider with no idea of how to run a government.  On the other hand, on the off chance he takes the nomination, Trump has similar qualifications.
[Positions:  Common-sense, simple solutions that probably won’t work, because problems are complex.  But what the hell; I like him anyway.]
(Not in the first debates.  Not even considered for them.)
Marianne Williamson — If there were a chance she might actually take the nomination, this is the type of candidate that SuperDelegates were designed to eliminate.  She’s guaranteed to lose to a yaller dog, much less a serious challenger.  Fortunately, she’s not even polling in single digits.
Michael Bennett — Another Coloradan heard from; this one’s a Senator.  Not a serious contender.
Wayne Messam — Miramar Florida mayor; child of Jamaican immigrants.  Has sued his state and been very much in the news.  Probably not serious this time, but watch him in the future.  (Not in the first debates.)
Tim Ryan — Best I can tell, he’s running for VP.  And, since he’s a popular 8-term Rep from Ohio, he could bring along some nice electoral bonuses to the right candidate.
[Positions: Anti-Pelosi, pro-business, pro-tax.]
Steve Bullock — Governor from Montana and popular in the area, Bullock can draw on the local and regional vote in the EC… but that’s Vice Presidential math.  First he’ll have to find enough donors to propel him to the debate stage, and that’s unlikely in the early stages.  (Not in the first debates.  Contesting.)
Joe Sestak — Former Pennsylvania congressman; many-times loser in other races.  Announced late; undistinguished candidate.

Bill de Blasio — Mayor of New York City, he thinks this qualifies him to run the country.  To be fair, he might be right, but we’ll never know.  Zero electoral advantage; no distinguishing policy stances.
(Dropped out Sept 20)
Kirsten Gillibrand
— Smart, experienced, competent.  Unfortunately for her, she’s an unknown outside of New York except as a Pantsuit Nation Clintonite, which doesn’t lend much to her apparent electibility.
[Positions:  Pragmatic Progressive.  The insider’s outsider.  Pro-establishment.]
(Dropped out Aug 28)
Seth Moulton
— Second-term Rep from Massachusetts.  He’s got military experience and wants to boost defense — a courageous stand for a Democrat.  (Not in the first debates.)
(Dropped out Aug 23)
Jay Inslee
— Already lost New Hampshire a year before the primary.  He’s experienced, an insider, a real pro pro, and very qualified.   Alas, he has a tendency to eviscerate himself in public.  This makes him the perfect Democrat.
[Positions:  Climate change, climate change, climate change.]
(Dropped out Aug 22)
John Hickenlooper
— Former governor of Colorado; former brewer; geologist.  Not so much running as kinda strolling.
(Dropped out Aug 15)
Eric Swalwell
— Congressman from California; Iowan native son; went to school in Maryland.  Electorally he’s surprisingly strong… at least, he would be were he a Republican.  Virtual unknown.
(Dropped out early July)
Mike Gravel
— Former Senator from Alaska; just turned eighty-nine.  Best known for reading the entire Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record.  His campaign is being run by a bunch of high school students as an homage to his anti-Vietnam efforts.
[Positions:  Opposes the Vietnam War. Pro-pipeline; supports direct democracy.]
(Dropped out late July.)
Richard Ojeda
— Never discount anyone with a salad bar like that.  Not a genius, but plenty smart enough, and he has popular moderate positions.  I like him.  Naturally, he didn’t stand a chance; as he’s smarter than he is an egotist, he was the first to pull out of the race.  Is No Longer Running
Sherrod Brown — This is one party hack with a real chance, if he ever actually starts to act.  He could deliver Ohio in the general.  Too bad his wife’s not the candidate; her I like (and fear).  Is No Longer Running
Michael Bloomberg — Wants to be a kingmaker, but he just doesn’t have enough political clout to really matter.  He’d be even less electable than Uncle Joe.  On the other hand, he’s got experience and some serious abilities, which is worth precisely nothing in this particular race.  Is No Longer Running
Michael Avenatti — Best known as the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Avenatti was one of the first to announce and then one of the first to withdraw.  Presently under indictment in California.  Raised a respectable war-chest.  Is No Longer Running
Terry McAuliffe— Known loser and critical of the DNC, Gov. McAuliffe could win the general but not the nomination.  I hope for his sake he realizes that.  Has not announced, and I hope he never does.
Hillary Clinton — Until recently, she was polling in third place, and she’s definitely not running.  Now that she’s left the race, Clinton’s role will be behind the scenes; she’s a genius at policy and shaping a message, not so much so at campaigning.  However, her influence will be substantial.  Is Not Running
[Positions:  Policy wonk; pragmatic partisan.]


Donald Trump — Remember:  Nixon won re-election, so it could happen.  Trump is the most polarizing figure in American politics since Abraham Lincoln was elected, and he’s hated at least as much by a rather larger percentage of the population.  The only reason his re-election would not ignite a civil war is that most Democrats are anti-gun.
[Positions:  Pro-Trump nationalist.  Not sure he’s really a Republican.]

Bill Weld — You might remember him as the Libertarian VP candidate from 2016 who semi-endorsed Clinton just before Election Day.  Or you might remember him as a brilliant Republican who got elected as governor in Massachusetts, of all places.  Either way, he’s going to present a stumbling block to Trump’s campaign — and if he takes the nomination, he’ll appeal to moderates.
[Positions:  Anti-Trump small-government pro-liberty libertarian.  In favor of massive healthcare reform.  Reasonable.]

Joe Walsh — Not the singer/songwriter.  One-term Illinois congressman who was gerrymandered out of office in 2012.  Conservative talk radio star.
[Positions:  Tea Party platform, fiscally ultra-conservative, socially fairly liberal.  Anti-Trump.]

Mark Sanford — Former Congressman; former governor of South Carolina.  Famous for bringing live pigs onto the state House floor as a protest against “pork barrel” politics.  Spurred multiple successful bipartisan efforts against his vetoes.  Has not announced.
John Kasich — Another former governor with national name recognition, Kasich could act as a spoiler in the primaries.  It’s not likely he would win unless there was a massive campaign, and that appears unlikely.  On the other hand, he’s polling well.  Has not announced.
Nikki Haley — This is the only Republican who, in my opinion, would stand a decent chance in a general election in addition to the primary; she’d carry South Carolina in a heartbeat, and both gender and personality would serve her well in New Hampshire and Iowa.  She hasn’t publicly broken with the Trump administration; she also has a reputation for diplomatically opposing Trump’s foreign policies from her seat as Ambassador to the U.N.  Created a potential funding vehicle for a campaign structure; has joined major conservative coalitions.  The automatic VP candidate.  Has not announced.


Howard Schultz — It’s remotely possible that he could take a few percentage points in a normal general election season as an independent.  However, he’s definitely a fringe candidate at best, and in the present polarized climate he’s somewhat less likely to win than, say, William McKinley, who in case you haven’t been paying attention has been dead for more than a century.  However, as he’s actually on most ballots, it’s likely he’ll record more (counted) votes than Vermin Supreme (who also has not announced).
[Position:  Head juxtaposed with rectum.]

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