WASHINGTON — The Republican presidential contest has been aflutter for months, but now it’s time for the Democrats to spread their wings before a big national audience.
Their first debate is Tuesday night on CNN. Grab your binoculars and bring along this field guide to the candidates.
Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Key features: Nearly everybody recognizes her. She’s the only candidate who’s lived in the White House already, as first lady.
A quick sketch:
- Daughter of a fabric store owner and a homemaker living in the Chicago suburbs
- Met her future husband and future president, Bill Clinton, at Yale Law School
- After serving as first lady, elected to U.S. Senate from New York
- Early Democratic front-runner in ’08, she lost presidential nomination to Barack Obama
- Won both praise and criticism as Obama’s first secretary of state
Also of note: A steady drip is wearing on Clinton’s air of invincibility as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The troubles include Clinton using a personal email account and server while at the State Department; the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on her watch; and big donations from foreigners and political supporters to the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.
Might Clinton be for you?
Perhaps yes, if you prefer a Democrat but with a more aggressive foreign policy than Obama.
Perhaps no, if you want a candidate who isn’t already mired in investigations (Benghazi, and therefore emails).
Some other distinguishing issues:
- Wants to make public universities affordable and community colleges tuition-free
- Wants to build on Obama’s health care law and lower the costs of prescription drugs and insurance deductibles
- Opposes an Obama initiative that she once supported: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal
In a nutshell: Establishment. Early favorite. Second-timer.
What does Hillary Clinton believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.
Photo by Jay Paul/Reuters
Key features: He’s an independent senator from Vermont who calls himself a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist.
A quick sketch:
- Son of a Polish immigrant father; raised in Brooklyn with the accent to prove it
- A student civil rights activist at the University of Chicago in the ’60s
- Unseated the Democratic mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by 10 votes in 1981
- Elected to U.S. House in 1990, he’s Congress’ longest-serving independent
- An early and vocal opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003
Also of note: Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, but he’s never been a Democrat. He represented an anti-war third party in four unsuccessful races for office in Vermont in the 1970s. He was elected Burlington mayor as an independent. He caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, but he’s called both the Democratic and Republican parties tools of the wealthy.
Might Sanders be for you?
Perhaps yes, if you want a president to tackle income inequality as “the great moral issue of our time” and think democratic socialism is cool.
Perhaps no, if you want government to get smaller, not bigger.
Some other distinguishing issues:
- Create a “Medicare for All” single-payer universal health care program
- Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour
- Make tuition free at public colleges and universities
In a nutshell: Liberal. Populist. Politically independent.
What does Bernie Sanders believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.
Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Key features: He’s a former Maryland governor who champions data-driven leadership and sings, too.
A quick sketch:
- Father was a suburban D.C. lawyer, mother’s been a congressional staffer for nearly three decades
- Met his wife while they were University of Maryland law students
- Elected Baltimore mayor at age 36, he took a statistics-heavy approach to reducing crime
- During two terms as governor that ended in January, he signed bills legalizing gay marriage, repealing the death penalty
- The longtime front-man of a Celtic rock band, he sometimes sings and plays guitar at campaign events
Also of note: One of the achievements O’Malley boasts about — dramatically reducing Baltimore’s high crime rate as mayor — is getting new scrutiny in a time of national “Black Lives Matter” protests. Critics contend that O’Malley’s zero-tolerance crime policies fostered a culture of harassment and abuse of black citizens that they blame for the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody in April.
Might O’Malley be for you?
Perhaps yes, if you want to shield people in the country illegally from deportation until immigration law is overhauled.
Perhaps no, if you dislike his history of raising taxes.
Some other distinguishing issues:
- Increase Social Security benefits for seniors by raising payroll taxes on high earners
- Toughen gun laws, including requiring a background check with fingerprints for every gun sale
- Tighten banking rules and break up big banks to end potential for bailouts
In a nutshell: Policy wonk. Liberal. An alternative to Clinton.
What does Martin O’Malley believe? Where the candidate stands on 11 issues.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Key features: A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, he’s followed his own path as a lawyer, novelist, journalist, Navy secretary and one-term U.S. senator.
A quick sketch:
- Grew up on the move as Air Force officer’s son; graduated U.S. Naval Academy in 1968
- Awarded numerous medals, including Navy Cross for heroism as a platoon commander in Vietnam
- Battle injuries forced him out of the Marines; wrote first of his military novels, “Fields of Fire,” in 1978
- Named President Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary; resigned to protest spending cuts
- Won 2006 Senate race in Virginia, running as a Democrat who had opposed invading Iraq
Also of note: Some of Webb’s writings could haunt his campaign, especially among women and minority voters. He’s expressed regret for a blunt 1975 magazine piece against admitting women to the Naval Academy. He opined that affirmative action should be only for black Americans, not other minorities. Amid recent debate over removing Confederate flags and monuments, he urged people to remember “that honorable Americans fought on both sides.” He’s also written some racy prose as a novelist.
Might Webb be for you?
Perhaps yes, if you want a champion for the troops who’s cautious about military ventures.
Perhaps no, if you want a candidate who backs President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran.
Some other distinguishing issues:
- Impose a doctrine limiting the circumstances under which the U.S. would use military force
- Stop incarcerating people for nonviolent drug crimes
- Overhaul the tax code to benefit workers, while also reducing the corporate tax rate
In a nutshell: Former Republican. Combat veteran. Outsider appeal.
What does Jim Webb believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.
Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters
Key features: A former Republican senator, he switched to the Democrats while serving as Rhode Island governor.
A quick sketch:
- Son of John Chafee, who was a Rhode Island governor and senator with a long political lineage
- Earned classics degree from Brown University, then spent seven years shoeing racehorses
- Elected mayor of Warwick in 1992; appointed U.S. senator when his father died in office
- Elected to his Senate seat in 2000 but lost re-election bid six years later
- Quit Republican Party, ran for governor as an independent, became a Democrat in office
Also of note: Chafee long stood out as a liberal Republican in an increasingly conservative party. In 2002, he was the only Republican senator to vote against going to war in Iraq, and he’s making that a cornerstone of his campaign. As an independent governor, he backed Barack Obama for president twice. He joined the Democrats in 2013.
Might Chafee be for you?
Perhaps yes, if you want to reinvigorate the United Nations and “find a way to wage peace.”
Perhaps no, if you don’t want the U.S. to seek alliances with Russia or Iran or consider talking with Islamic State militants.
Some other distinguishing issues:
- Ban the death penalty
- Drop all charges against fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden
- Switch the U.S. to the metric system
In a nutshell: Political pedigree. Party switcher. Unconventional.
What does Lincoln Chafee believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.
Democrats grappling with the shock of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by RussiansTrump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rallyPennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district mapMORE’s loss to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truthWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by RussiansShulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VAMORE are also beginning to turn their attention to 2020, and pondering who could defeat Trump as he vies for reelection.
Here are The Hill’s initial rankings of where the potential candidates stand.
1. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump's SEC may negate investors' ability to fight securities fraud Schatz's ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with governmentDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nomineeMORE (Mass.)
How would the 2016 election have panned out had Warren challenged Clinton in the primary? That’s one of the great unknowables of Democratic politics. But now, there is little doubt that the Massachusetts senator is the leading contender for the 2020 nomination.Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor, has been beloved by the left throughout her late-blooming political career, largely because of her no-punches-pulled attacks on banks and the financial industry. She got under Trump’s skin via Twitter during the 2016 campaign too.
The recent news that Warren will join the Senate Armed Services Committee in January has stoked speculation that she is looking to bolster her foreign policy and national security credentials in advance of a presidential run. Warren would be 71 by the time of the next election, but she is three years younger than Trump.
2. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary statesAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forwardMORE (I-Vt.)
Sanders came from semi-obscurity in the Senate to give Clinton a serious run for her money in the battle for the Democratic nomination this year.
He won 23 contests and amassed more than 13 million votes. He also fired the enthusiasm of young voters and progressives, two pillars of the Democratic base that Clinton struggled to charm.
The Vermonter’s focus on income inequality and his broader point that the system is rigged against working Americans resonated. Sanders’s main problem when it comes to a 2020 run could be his age. He will be 79 next Election Day. Still, Sanders might well be tempted to try one more time — especially if Warren stood aside.
3. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)
Booker raised eyebrows earlier this month when it emerged that he would join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the new Congress convenes. As with Warren and the Armed Services panel, his decision was interpreted as an effort to burnish his resume for a potential presidential run.
Booker is just 47, and he is one of only two African-Americans in the Senate for now. (That number will rise to three in January when California’s Kamala Harris will be sworn in.)
He is also one of the most media-savvy members in the upper chamber — a trait that has been apparent since the start of his career, when his first, failed bid to become mayor of Newark was captured in a sympathetic documentary, “Street Fight.”
Booker is far from the most liberal member of the caucus. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he criticized an Obama campaign ad that hit Mitt Romney’s business record, insisting on NBC's "Meet the Press", “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity.”
An optimistic view is that he could bridge the gap between the progressive and center-left strands of the party. Skeptics will question whether he is a little too corporate-friendly for the tastes of Democratic primary voters.
4. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial DayOvernight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand Dems seek reversal of nursing home regulatory rollbackMORE (Minn.)
Klobuchar has already appeared on several shortlists of likely contenders for the nomination, and it’s not hard to see why.
The New Yorker called her, “popular, practical, appealing [and] progressive.” She is from a state where the currents of labor and progressivism run strong. But the no-nonsense, affable Klobuchar could also plausibly appeal to Rust Belt voters whom her party needs to win over.
One issue for Klobuchar right now is that she does not have a high profile outside of her native state and the Beltway. There is plenty of time to change that if she wants to run and win in 2020. But she could be eclipsed by higher-wattage candidates.
5. Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 electionsDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nomineeCalls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers MORE (N.Y)
Gillibrand followed in Clinton’s footsteps when she replaced her as a New York senator in 2009. Could she do the same at the presidential level — but actually win the White House?
It’s certainly possible. Gillibrand’s profile has risen in tandem with her making the prevention of sexual assaults in the military a signature issue. Representing New York, she has easy access to the national media and to powerful Democratic fundraising networks.
But Gillibrand’s similarities with Clinton, superficial though they may be, could go against her. It’s just not clear Democrats would roll the dice again, as soon as 2020, on another prominent female nominee from New York.
Critics also charge that Gillibrand emphasized more centrist positions as a congresswoman from a somewhat conservative district than she does as a senator from a liberal state.
6. First lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama celebrates success of ‘Black Panther’How textbooks shape teachers — not just their studentsMichelle Obama dedicates Valentine's Day playlist to Barack ObamaMORE
If the first lady exhibited even a slight inclination to run, she would be ranked near the top of this list.
There is no figure in public life, with the possible exception of her husband, who has so strong a hold on liberal hearts and minds.
Obama has become more comfortable with her public role over the years. Her two major speeches during the 2016 campaign — one at the Democratic convention, another excoriating Trump for “hurtful, hateful language about women” — were among the most powerful delivered during the cycle.
The first lady insists that she won’t run, citing the effect such an effort would have on her two daughters among other factors. But Malia and Sasha Obama will be 22 and 19, respectively, by the time of the next election. When it comes to the first lady’s future plans, many Democrats still cling to the audacity of hope.
7. Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.)
Hickenlooper presides over a state that is considered a key battleground, even though it has become more solidly Democratic in recent years. Colorado has gone for the Democratic nominee in the past three presidential elections and Clinton won the state by five points.
Hickenlooper, who has a politically effective down-to-earth persona, could potentially boost the party’s appeal in the heartlands. He has enjoyed solid approval ratings during his time in office.
One problem? While his chances are talked up among Beltway pundits, he is almost unknown in the nation at large.
8.Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers feel pressure on gunsTrump to take steps to ban bump stocksKasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shootingMORE (Conn.)
Murphy has come to the fore on the issue of gun control. He can speak with moral authority on the issue: In his state, a gunman killed 20 young children, as well as six adults, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. President Obama has called that moment the worst day of his presidency.
Politically speaking, Murphy would need to display more policy breadth and heighten his national profile if he is to be a genuine contender. For the moment, he’s one to watch.
9. Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nomineeTrump: Why didn't Obama 'do something about Russian meddling?'2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary statesMORE
The vice president could have definitively ruled himself out of the running, but hasn’t. He joked with reporters about the possibility earlier this month, and then sought to clarify by saying he had “no intention” of running.
Biden would clearly have loved to run in 2016, were it not for the fact that he was still grieving the loss of his son, Beau. Biden’s age is a real issue, however. He would be 77 by next Election Day. If he won, he would turn 78 before being inaugurated.
For all his political skills, his two previous runs for the presidency, in 1988 and 2008, ended in failure.
10. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.)
On paper, Cuomo looks like a strong candidate. He is the governor of a huge, liberal state and hails from a well-established political family. Cuomo’s late father, Mario, served as governor of the Empire State for three terms.
No one doubts the younger Cuomo’s ambition, but whether he is the right fit for the times is a tougher question. In a party where the left is ascendant, he has positioned himself as a centrist foil to New York City’s liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio. It’s not clear what Cuomo’s power base would be for a primary fight.
11. Sen.-elect Kamala Harris (Calif.)
Harris is one of the bright spots for Democrats who are dismayed by their failure to retake the Senate. She will succeed the retiring Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerKamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union responseBillionaire Steyer to push for Dem House pushMORE in January.
Harris has been seen as a rising star in the party for some time, her fans including President Obama, who once praised her in imprudent terms.
Harris, a leading lawyer before shifting into politics, is the daughter of an Indian-American mother and a Jamaican-American father. It’s not clear she has any presidential ambitions and, if she ran in 2020, she would face criticism about her relative lack of political experience. But she would be as experienced as then-Sen. Obama was when he began his 2008 White House run.
12. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Could she run again? It’s possible. Many people thought Clinton’s electoral ambitions had ended in 2008, with her devastating loss to Obama in the Democratic primary. That turned out not to be the case.
There is still a large, wealthy circle of Clinton loyalists, who would back any future run. But, even if she had the appetite for a 2020 bid, she would have enormous hurdles to overcome.
One of the biggest would be the question of how she lost the presidency to Donald Trump. Beyond the hardline Clintonistas, there aren’t many Democratic insiders who were wowed by her campaign. In a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released earlier this month, 62 percent of Democrats and independents said Clinton should not run again.
13. Former Gov. Deval Patrick (Mass.)
Patrick has considerable political skills and was once talked up as a potential inheritor of President Obama’s mantle. David Axelrod, one of the aides closest to Obama, worked with Patrick as well, and both Patrick and Obama adopted “Yes We Can!” as a campaign slogan.
But Patrick left office in 2015, and it’s just not clear whether he could — or would want to — come off the sidelines for 2020. He also joined Bain Capital, which is hardly the ideal launching pad for a quest to win over liberal activists.
14. Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSave lives, restore congressional respect by strengthening opioids’ seizureOvernight Finance: Lawmakers, Treasury look to close tax law loopholes | Trump says he backs gas tax hike | Markets rise despite higher inflation | Fannie Mae asks for .7BBipartisan Senate group says they have immigration dealMORE (Va.)
Kaine achieved a new national prominence when Clinton named him as her 2016 running mate. But his performance was a mixed bag.
The Virginia senator gave some energetic speeches on the campaign trail, defying his reputation for dullness. On the other hand, his showing in his sole debate with his counterpart, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNorth Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at OlympicsJudicial order in Flynn case prompts new round of scrutinyThe CIA may need to call White House to clarify Russia meddlingMORE, was uneven at best.
15. Oprah Winfrey
Trump proved how powerful a currency celebrity can be — and there may be no more trusted celebrity in America than Oprah. Having steered largely clear of partisan politics for most of her career, Winfrey became an enthusiastic backer of Obama when he looked a long shot to beat Hillary Clinton to the 2008 nomination.
Winfrey has said she “couldn’t breathe” after Trump won in November. She softened her stance later, but could she be tempted into a race to defeat the president-elect?