Taking Stock of the Contenders for the Democratic Nomination

Yesterday I took my final look back on the 2018 midterms before pivoting to the next Biggest Election Ever: the 2020 presidential. Specifically, I previewed what will ultimately be a straight-forward Republican Primary — or, at least as straight-forward as anything can be while still involving Donald Trump. Today we move over to the more dramatic contest.

The Democratic Primary

Starting as early as the spring, we’ll start hearing major candidates declaring for the presidency. (In fact, some minor candidates have already announced.) Most others will announce by the summer, with a few stragglers entering in the fall. By the end of 2019, we can expect a field nearly 20 strong.[1] Most will remain by the 2020 Iowa caucuses, currently scheduled for February 3, 2020.

But who will win? Or, at least, who are the favorites? That’s what today’s column will attempt to find out.

We can start with the official odds. Oddschecker.com organizes the major betting websites into one convenient chart, and we can see that even the bookies have no idea who to like in the crowded potential field. Though generally codified by best to worst odds, Oddschecker’s list is mostly a glut of similarly ranked contenders. In total it has nearly 70 names listed, and all but nine have odds as short as 50/1.

So, rather than having a way-too-early Power Rankings, let’s organize the 70 names by tier. “Odds are” the next Democratic nominee will come from the following names.

Bottom tier: The Jokes[2] — no odds as strong as 50/1

“Candidates”: Kanye West, Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, Lady Gaga, Dwayne Johnson (as The Rock), Andrew Yang, Bill de Blasio, Jim Webb, Christine Blazy Ford

Analysis: Mostly celebrities with a couple politicians, an entrepreneur (Yang, who has already declared), two politicians (BDB and Webb), and a sexual assault accuser. Let’s move on.

Tier 5: The Long Shots — Their best odds are between 50/1 and 33/1.

“Candidates”: Chelsea Clinton, Dwayne Johnson (as not The Rock), George Clooney, Jay Nixon, John Kerry, Martin O’Malley, Joe Manchin, Steve Bullock, Joe Kennedy III, Terry McAulliffe, Jerry Brown, Jeff Merkley, Seth Moulton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Catherine Cortez-Masto, Marty Walsh, Howard Schultz, Tim Ryan, Jason Kander, Mitch Landrieu, Tom Steyer, Chris Murphy, Mark Warner, Tammy Duckworth, John Delaney, Al Gore, Doug Jones.

Analysis: Still mostly no-shots, though I’ll flag Chris Murphy, Steve Bullock, and Mitch Landrieu as names that can move up a tier (or two).

Tier 4: The Fringe Contenders — Members of this tier have odds around 30/1 on average, or they have randomly good odds from some place.

“Candidates”: Michael Avenatti, Julian Castro, Andrew Cuomo, Al Franken, Tim Kaine, Caroline Kennedy, Gavin Newsom, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Mark Zuckerberg

Analysis: When I say “fringe,” I mean fringe. Castro and Kaine are the most likely to move up, though I’ve heard some people predict that Avenatti can turn into the Democrats’ Trump — a brash, unlikable, immoral, generally-ignorant-on-the-issues tough guy who no one takes seriously until he insults his way to the top of the polls and members of his party have to convince themselves he’s not that bad, just in case he wins and heads to a general election.

Tier 3: Now We’re Talking — Here we have lots of odds around 20/1. We can start assuming that most of the names to follow are at least considering a run.

“Candidates”: Sherrod Brown (Ohio Senator), Hillary Clinton (2016 nominee), Mark Cuban (billionaire entrepreneur), Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii Congresswoman), Eric Garcetti (L.A. mayor), John Hickenlooper (former Colorado Governor), Erik Holder (former U.S. Attorney General), Michelle Obama (former First Lady), Deval Patrick (former Massachusetts governor), Oprah Winfrey (Oprah).

Analysis: Some huge names here. I think half of the ten are likely to run: Gabbard, Brown, Patrick, Garcetti, and Holder. However, though each of the five can make a splash, I don’t see any of them making a long-term impact on the race. It’s most of the other half that would really shake up the race if they declared: Clinton, Cuban, Obama, and Winfrey. If any of them declare, they’d move up to Tier 2 in a heartbeat.

Tier 2: The Contenders — Here we start seeing the odds creep toward single digits/1, and in some places they’re already there.

“Candidates”: Michael Bloomberg (former New York Mayor; billionaire), Cory Booker (New Jersey Senator), Kristen Gillibrand (New York Senator), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota Senator), Bernie Sanders (Vermont heartthrob)

Analysis: I expect most of these names to run — perhaps all of them.

Tier 1: The Co-Favorites — odds mostly in the single digits/1

“Candidates”: Joe Biden (former Vice President), Kamala Harris (California Senator), Beto O’Rourke (Texas Congressman), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts Senator)

Analysis: Here’s a quick word on each of the co-favorites:

With odds usually around 5/1, Kamala Harris is generally considered the favorite, although a very weak one. On Bet365, she’s listed behind only Trump as the most likely next president (odds of 15/2). Democratic advantages with women and African Americans make an African American woman a natural choice to rally both groups, especially with her liberal record offering substance to pair with the aesthetics. As a California Senator, she could use delegate-rich California to jump in front of a closely contested primary. Her odds also benefit from being one of the people that, unlike nearly every other person mentioned today, actually shows real signs of running.

Elizabeth Warren is usually found around 6 or 7/1. The Senator’s greatest asset is her likely inheritance of Bernie Sanders’s progressive movement — assuming Sanders bequeaths it to her instead of trying to become a 78-year-old general election candidate. The primary will likely be a showdown, once again, of the party’s establishment wing trying to hold off its progressive base. Since the establishment won the primary but lost the general last time, the progressives can make a compelling case, and Warren is probably their preferred candidate.

As for Beto O’Rourke, I tweeted on election night that his presidential odds on many of these sites were about 25/1, and that a sharp bettor should run to make that bet. I was right, and hopefully you grabbed it. Even with his Senate loss to Ted Cruz, his longest odds for the presidency is now half that: just 12/1. I actually love O’Rourke as a VP candidate; he’s someone who proved he can talk to middle-of-the-road voters in a red state, which is someone the Democrats need, but as just a young member of a Texas Congressional district, neither the progressive nor establishment wings will carry him to the ticket’s top half. Plus, licking his wounds after a loss, he’s the least likely of these four to run and could be six or ten years away.


Remember in 2012 when President Obama’s listless first debate against Mitt Romney made the Republican ticket the favorite for the first time? Democrats slammed the panic button. Fortunately for them, nearby was an “in case of emergency” glass box, and inside it was Vice President Joe Biden. In the follow-up debate against GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan, Biden didn’t care about being rude. He interrupted, he sighed, he showed attitude… he saved the Democratic ticket. He and his boss earned four more years, and Biden returned to his case.

Now, six years later, is it time to break the glass again? Because that kind of debate performance feels like just what the doctor ordered. Though he has generally the longest odds in the top tier — usually 8/1 to 10/1 — I’d install him as the favorite. He’s popular across the Democratic spectrum, and he’s one of the few names on here that won’t be dwarfed by TRUMP — and we know he won’t be bullied by him. Of all these candidates, I’d give him the best chance to win if nominated, and I think general election viability — in other words, the ability to evict Trump from the White House — will be Democratic voters’ top priority.[3]

General Election

Let’s be clear: the most likely person to win the 2020 presidential election is Donald Trump. That’s because we’re pretty sure he’ll be one of the two major party nominees. On the other side, Democrats split the nomination odds so many ways that their odds for the presidency are considerably longer.

A more instructive question is — “Who is favored: Trump or Democratic nominee X?” It’s of course hard to say without knowing who X is, but since the President keeps hitting his combover against an approval ceiling of about 45 percent, one should make Democrat X a small favorite. The Oddschecker.com sites agree:


As an alternative to those bookies, next week I’ll debut the Presidential Politics for America odds for each primary and the general election. I of course won’t accept any bets, unless you want to wager on Susan Sarandon, but it’ll give you a sense of how I think the race is going. I’ll update them periodically, so don’t be a stranger.


[1]By comparison, the 2016 Republican field had 17 candidates at least participate in a debate, with another handful of bottom tier candidates not getting invited. On the Democratic side, though President Obama was on his way out, they only had five candidates due to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as President, a coronation we now know went totally smoothly.

[2]It’s worth noting that Donald Trump’s potential candidacy — and then candidacy itself — was once considered a joke, and in fact even as president some people still see him as one.

[3]His age is a small concern: he’ll be 77 on election day. However, Trump will be 74, so the difference is negligible. I also have a hunch that Biden will promise to be a one-term president. He’ll say he’ll beat Trump, spend a term redirecting the country, then hand it off to the next generation of Democrats. I wish I could find odds on this.


19 thoughts on “Taking Stock of the Contenders for the Democratic Nomination”

  1. I would love a Kamala-Bernie ticket. Or Beto-Biden (or Biden-Beto). Seems like those loveable old cranks would go great with some young blood, and also hold broader appeal for the general.
    I hope Dems have learned from Trump that previously-unelected celebrities can in fact be incompetent leaders, and don’t go for an Oprah or Clooney type (but who am I kidding, Dwayne Johnson as president would be awesome — imagine him jumping out of a helicopter in Afghanistan to visit troops [and hopefully tell them “we’re goin’ home]).
    Amy Klobuchar to bring in those close midwestern states? But people don’t get excited to vote based on electoral college nonsense. In the end, I’ll vote in the primaries for whoever (bar a celebrity or Avenatti) is connecting with voters and especially getting young people excited to cast a ballot.

    Liked by 1 person

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