The Week That Was and What Will Be: Warren, Klobuchar, and Who’s Left?

In the last week, two of the Democratic Party’s most powerful women members officially declared their candidacies for the presidency. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made her announcement on Saturday, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar followed one day later.[1]

PPFA already addressed Warren’s candidacy on multiple occasions; she had already taken the popular approach of first forming an “exploratory committee” even though she knew darn well she was running for president and had the proper amount of support to do so. This provided her two cracks at having political news cycles all to herself (which Klobuchar was having none of — see footnote 1). My analysis of her chances has not changed: I think Warren and Bernie Sanders likely eliminate each other due to splitting the progressive vote and the New Hampshire Primary electorate. Her best chance is that she’s the “compromise candidate” — meaning her progressive credentials are acceptable to the left (unlike that of Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Klobuchar), while her loyalty to the Democratic Party makes her tolerable to the establishment (unlike Sanders).[2]

Klobuchar, meanwhile, is among the Democratic Primary’s more fascinating candidates. Coming off the “year of the woman,” she offers a chance to fire up the woman’s vote. Furthermore, unlike Warren (who conventional wisdom says might bother too many moderates with her fiery progressiveness), Kristen Gillibrand (a northeast liberal who has voted against Trump more than any other Senator), and Harris (who carries enough potential “firsts” that some worry she’s a risk general election candidate), Klobuchar has great appeal to the broad swath of America that largely gave up on the Democratic Party after Bill Clinton walked out of the Oval Office for the last time as President.[3]

A Minnesotan who has run up huge numbers in her three Senate elections despite Trump nearly winning her state in 2016, Klobuchar can point to success reaching crossover voters. Minneapolis’s hallowed Star Tribune examined her success in Minnesota, a massive state with many pro-Trump rural areas. In 2018, on her way to an impressive 24-point statewide victory in a purple state, the Tribune noted that of the approximately 3,000 Minnesotan precincts that went to Trump two years earlier, she won 1,250, or about 40 percent. By comparison, in that same election, the Democratic candidate for governor won fewer than 500. That leaves about 750 precincts that voted Republican for governor but for the Democratic Klobuchar anyway. The Tribune relayed her surprising success not just in urban areas typically won by a Democrat, but also in Republican-leaning suburban and rural counties. She ostensibly gives the party a great chance to again be competitive with moderates and the Midwest. That sounds like the kind of Democrat the party should run in a general election.

On the other hand, strong general election candidates don’t get forced through by the party anymore. We don’t know yet know how the road to the 2020 Democratic nomination will be traversed (a topic on which this author constantly ruminates), but we can be fairly certain it doesn’t wind through the Midwest. At the Democratic National Convention, state delegation size is dependent on several factors, including the state’s population, the number of elected Democrats in the state, and party loyalty in presidential elections. Midwest and more moderate Democratic states fair poorly in all three of these categories. These states are typically smaller, with fewer elected Democrats, and with rarer blue results in presidential elections. The weight of the Democratic Party is in more populous and bluer states, the motherlode of which is Kamala Harris’s California. Other powerful delegations included Castro and O’Rourke’s Texas, Gillibrand’s New York, Booker’s New Jersey, and New England, particularly Warren’s Massachusetts.[4] These states control a lot of delegates, and it’s reasonable to conclude that voters in these states will back their favorite sons and daughters, leaving few delegates for the likes of Klobuchar. At least Biden and Sanders are hugely popular national names that can draw support from across the country. Klobuchar has no such advantage.

So would would this experienced, Midwestern woman make a strong general election candidate, particularly as a contrast to the relentlessly bombastic and considerably male President Trump? Absolutely. But will she make it that far? I don’t think so. She’s a strong candidate, particularly in the not unrealistic scenario in which she wins the Iowa caucuses, but I have her as the eighth or ninth most likely nominee.

Odds to win the nomination: 12/1
Planetary classification: Major planet

We’re now at nine official major Democratic candidates, give or take a couple depending on who one defines as “major.” You might be wondering: who else are we expecting? Will the Democrats surpass the gargantuan 17-person field put forth by the GOP in 2016?

Let’s find out. Here’s who I perceive as likely to run, in a general order of how I would rank their chances to win the nomination. (The first four I’d place in the top two tiers of a Power Ranking.)

  1. Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States
  2. Beto O’Rourke, Congressman from Texas
  3. Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont and 2016 Democratic Primary runner-up
  4. Sherrod Brown, Senator from Ohio (the other “compromise candidate” — see footnote 2)
  5. John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado
  6. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York
  7. Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana

Below are candidates that are as equally likely to run as not. They surely must be dissuaded by the large field. They are also ranked by likelihood to win the nomination, though I think only Abrams has sufficient electricity to make a legitimate run.

  1. Stacey Abrams, party leader in Georgia Assembly; candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2018
  2. Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, former Congressman
  3. Terry McAuliffe, former Governor of Virginia and Chair of the DNC

And here are once potential candidates who I now think are leaning against running but haven’t ruled themselves out:

  1. Mitch Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans and Lt. Gov. of Louisiana
  2. Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, Washington DC
  3. Jeff Merkely, Senator from Oregon
  4. Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado
  5. Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California
  6. Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts
  7. Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio

For the sole purpose of predicting the total number of candidates by the time the declarations are complete, let’s start at the nine declared major candidates I’d deem as full planets or at least dwarf planets (Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Delaney, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren), add six of the seven “likely”s, two of the three “50/50″s, and two of the seven “leaning against”s, and one surprise name I haven’t considered. That gives us a grand total of (drum roll) 20! Nice and round and subject to change.

See you next week.


[1]The timing demands curiosity, as coincidences are rare in modern politics. Did these two Senators, each of whom are surely counting on support from women in an electorate that’s nearly 60 percent female, worry that the other might quickly earn loyalty if given too much space? Did Warren anticipate Klobuchar’s announcement and try to beat her to the stage? Or did Klobuchar anticipate Warren and work to short out Warren’s spotlight?

[2]I do think another potential major candidate out there has a decent shot at being this “compromise candidate,” though I have yet to talk about him much. More on him soon.

[3]Obama, to his credit, comfortably won Iowa and Minnesota in both elections before Hillary Clinton lost the former and barely held onto the latter. Still, other than the industrial north along the Great Lakes, no other states between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains have tipped blue since Clinton’s husband won all but one state along the Mississippi River.

[4]Below were the five largest pledged delegations (not counting “superdelegates“) at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which sat 4,051 pledged delegates:

  1. California–475 delegates
  2. New York–247
  3. Texas–222
  4. Florida–214
  5. Pennsylvania–189

It then dropped, with the next closest state over 30 delegates behind Pennsylvania. New Jersey sat a healthy 126. New England sat 235 delegates across its six states, with a strong plurality from Massachusetts. If you add up California, New York, Texas, and New England, you get nearly 1200 delegates, about 30 percent of the total number. Unless someone is popular nationally, like Biden and Sanders are, you’d imagine they’d need to get big chunks of delegates in at least one of those states/regions. Klobuchar will not.


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