Democrats 2024: An Unranked Top Ten

That’s right. The Microsoft Paint artwork is back, baby!

Last post, I categorized a few dozen fringe contenders for the 2024 Democratic nomination, but I left you on a cliffhanger: the top ten. Below, I have that top ten.

Please note that these are listed alphabetically. It’s far too early for a ranking.

1. Joe Biden, President of the United States: Okay, well he really is ranked #1. For more on that, check out last week’s post. If he’s running, he’ll let us know early in 2023, and most (all?) of the following names won’t run. But if he’s not running… then it gets interesting.

2. Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey: He already ran in 2020, of course, and he did quite poorly. I actually thought he was a great campaigner. So why didn’t he do better? I think he relied on urban support, but that never came because Barack Obama’s Vice President had it locked down from the beginning. In the scenario where Biden announces he’s not running, those voters are up for grabs. When deciding where to go, Cory Booker makes a lot of sense.

Even if Biden does run again, Booker is among the candidates I could see realistically challenging Biden, a possibility that gets him onto this top ten list. In so many ways, Booker offers a clear contrast to Biden; he’s black, young, healthy, well-spoken, and full of energy. What’s more is that he already has a history of nudging aside a past-his-prime official. Back in 2013, 89-year-old Democrat Frank Lautenberg was New Jersey’s very senior Senator. Cory Booker, literally less than half Lautenberg’s age, announced his candidacy for Lautenberg’s seat in the next Democratic Primary. In the process, Booker never spoke badly of Lautenberg. He praised Lautenberg’s service and even said he should make his own decisions on what to do in the upcoming election, only he should know Booker would challenge him for the nomination.

Later that year, Lautenberg made things easy on Booker by dying. Booker won the subsequent election and has filled the seat since. I imagine Booker could call the same play now, with precedent that it worked for him before. (If Biden also passes away after Booker declares a challenge, we might want the FBI to look into Booker’s magical powers. I’ve heard there were advantages to veganism, but I never considered voodoo among them.)

And finally, for what it’s worth… I think he’d be a great nominee for the Democratic Party. A post-Covid and post-Trump and post-Biden America should embrace his invigorating, positive, and empathetic approach to politics. He’d give the party a great chance to win, particularly if the GOP nominates Trump.

3. Sherrod Brown, Senator from Ohio: I think we’re six years into me calling him The Presidential Candidate That Makes Too Much Sense.

He’s maintained popularity in Ohio despite its drift toward the Republican Party. When Ohio politicians ran for their offices during the midterm election, it’s Brown with whom they wanted to appear — more so than Biden and even Obama. Brown would absolutely put Ohio back on the map as a mighty swing state.

Meanwhile, he’s one of the rare figures who seems popular with both progressive and establishment Democrats. He’s a champion of the working class, which gives him a chance to emulate Biden’s strength, which itself helped win back some Trump voters in the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Indeed, except for Biden himself, no person on this list more resembles the electoral strengths of Biden. It’s as if we’re doing a swap-out. Just add water and take away a decade.

I thought he’d run in 2020, and it seems he was seriously considering it until it was clear Biden was running. He had the wherewithal to realize Biden would own Brown’s lane, so he remained focused on being a Senator for the remainder of his term, which by the way expires in 2024. (It’s worth noting that Democrats might be best served if he just focused on re-election in a tough state for the party, a point against Brown’s chances of declaring.) If Biden steps aside, is it finally time for the The Presidential Candidate That Makes Too Much Sense?

4. Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation: Outside of Biden and Harris, Mayor Pete (Secretary Pete?) is the most frequent name I see from pundits as a potential candidate and serious contender.

Buttigieg, of course, was the most pleasant surprise of the 2020 Democratic Primary. He went from Mayor of South Bend, the fourth largest city in Indiana, to winner of the Iowa Caucuses and runner up in New Hampshire, losing the latter by only 1.3% to next-door heavyweight Bernie Sanders. He frankly would have won the state had fellow moderate Amy Klobuchar not surged into third on the heels of an endorsement from Presidential Politics For America. Buttigieg lays claim to one of the most impressive, out-of-the-blue runs in American political history.

His strengths are clear. He’s the smoothest guy Democrats have in debates and interviews, making him a great ambassador for the party in a general election. In pure level-headedness and articulation, he’s probably the best contrast to the Trump-Biden-Harris “Yikes, what did they just say?” triumvirate.

But I would not rank him as the third most likely nominee. His highest elected office is still just Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His turn at Transportation Secretary was certainly a step up — cabinet positions gain plenty of executive experience — but after the supply chain crises of the last couple years, it might not be the resume-builder for which he had been hoping.

I also don’t think he runs this time around. Many missed an under-the-radar decision from his family. They moved from Indiana to Michigan — from a red state to a purple one. That puts him in line for a realistic run for Congress — or for governor if Gretchen Whitmer leaves the office for reasons that may or may not connect to today’s topic — and then that puts him in line for another run at the presidency, which is inevitable, if not imminent. Just 40 years old, he’ll be among the favorites in 2028 or 2032. (If he waits until he’s Trump and Biden’s age to run again, he has until about 2060.)

5. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States: Understandably, she’s usually considered the second most likely nominee by the oddsmakers, but two factors work against her:

  • 1) She’s the least likely candidate to challenge Biden if he runs again.
  • 2) She’s bad at running for president. (Read last week’s post and PPFA’s archives for more.)

6. Amy Klobuchar, Queen: She took a while to gain traction in 2020, but Minnesota’s pragmatic Senator eventually started winning some people over after what felt like the 12th straight competent debate from the most competent Democrat in Washington. If she can start from that baseline, and if Biden doesn’t run for re-election, she might make a serious run at next-door Iowa and New Hampshire. Her statewide popularity in an extremely purple state should not be overlooked.

7. Gavin Newsom, Governor of California: The markets love Newsom. As of the morning of November 30, PredictIt has him at 11 cents a share, tied with Harris as the second priciest nominee, behind only Biden (45 cents). Oddschecker agrees, giving him the second best odds at the nomination at around 8/1. Bet365 has his odds at 6/1, only a smidge behind Harris. What gives?

I think all this Newsom action rests on the fact that Newsom seems to be the only other candidate reported to be running if Biden does not. CalMatters.org notes he’s doing everything you would expect a potential candidate to do in order to earn plaudits for attacking the other side and raise a national profile: “[H]is frequent diversions beyond California’s borders in recent months — airing a television ad in Florida in July warning that ‘freedom is under attack’ by Republican leaders, publishing newspaper ads in Texas weeks later to criticize Gov. Greg Abbott’s policies on abortion and guns, renting billboards in six conservative states last month to publicize California’s new government-funded abortion access website — have begun to catch the attention of party activists and political consultants whose support Newsom would need to build out a national campaign.”

Therefore, it’s understandable that his clear interest in running helps vault him over others who haven’t been as overt, at least in the markets’ eyes.

But let’s say Biden does indeed bow out and it’s a free-for-all between a dozen (or two) candidates. Would Newsom, by virtue of his current status as the second or third favorite, all of a sudden become the co-favorite with Harris?

I can’t stress the answer enough: no. Let’s leave aside the rise in California’s crime, homelessness, housing costs, and regulatory problems that lost Democrats winnable midterm seats and fueled an exodus from California, losing it an electoral vote for the first time in its history, all of which can easily be spun as the result of an ineffective Governor. Aside from these substantive vulnerabilities, let’s consider his dearth of appeal as a presidential candidate. Is he particularly popular with minority voters? No. Will he even dominate the mighty California Primary against fellow Californian Kamala Harris? Also no. Is the slick-haired multimillionaire relatable to the working class? Hard no. In his leadership of a dark blue state, which he just won by 10 fewer points than Biden did, has he shown any crossover appeal? Definitely not. Is his morality and public persona at least beyond reproach? No again.

Is he famous? Yes. Will he be well-funded? Absolutely. But if he’s neither a strong primary candidate nor a strong general election candidate, what exactly is he?

A massive flameout, that’s what. He’s the worst candidate on a list that includes Kamala Harris.

8. Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado: He’s among my favorite politicians you’ve never heard of, so we’ll need a few paragraphs here. I think both the Democratic Party and American electorate are ready for him. After serving five terms in the House (legislative experience!), he ran for governor in 2018 and won (executive experience!). At this year’s midterm election, the 46-year-old won re-election by 19 points, matching the 19-point margin by which Ron DeSantis won re-election in Florida during a more favorable political climate for his party. Both states were once swing states, but under these governors they’ve drifted considerably toward their party. Yet we only seem to be talking about one of them on the national level. Polis deserves more attention.

Polis’s crossover appeal should be considerable. His interviews are impressive; he always sounds like a common sense leader, never that aggressive or dramatic. No Democrat speaks more of civil liberties and getting government out of the way. The libertarian website Reason.com wonders if he’s the most libertarian governor in America. For example, once vaccinations were available and the emergency phase of the pandemic over, Polis was one of the earliest Democrats to argue for moving past pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates.

And yet, there’s a lot for Democrats to like, too. Part of libertarianism is the pro-choice position. “Colorado has been, is and will be a pro-choice state,” Polis said, describing government restrictions of abortion as “an enormous government infringement” of one’s individual liberty. “No matter what the Supreme Court does in the future, people in Colorado will be able to choose when and if they have children.” Polis is also an advocate of legalizing marijuana; Polis compares its criminalization to the failure of prohibition, a point I’ve been making for years despite never taking a puff in my life (nor a swig). In Congress, he was a vocal opponent of the PATRIOT Act and opposed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He’s also been a vociferous supporter of LGBT rights, with which he’s had some firsthand experience.

Yes, Polis is openly gay, and his career has been one of breaking barriers. He was the first openly gay parent elected to Congress, the first openly gay man to be governor of a state, and the first governor in a same-sex marriage. If elected president, it’d be the kind of massive breakthrough at a level we’ve only seen with Obama as the first African American, JFK as the first Catholic, and William Howard Taft as the first president large enough to get stuck in a bathtub. And Polis is Jewish, so that would be two barriers with one election. In addition to many of his common sense positions, that is definitely something Democrats can get excited about.

Now you’ve heard of him.

9. Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts: In the old days, someone of 73 years would not be presidential candidate material. But these days? That’s three years younger than the former President and seven years younger than the actual President! She’s alive.

All her strengths from 2020 are still there, the most important of which is that she’s a considerably informed and ideas-driven US Senator acceptable to both liberal and moderate Democrats. And yet, her weakness remains, too: it wouldn’t be the first time Democrats nominated a policy-oriented woman of advanced age from a northeast blue state who had support from liberal and moderate Democrats but little crossover appeal. Warren’s moment as the favorite in late 2019 didn’t last long, a result of a party still healing from its 2016 PTSD. Will another four years have been enough to complete the party’s recuperation? Maybe.

Maybe not.

And finally…

10. Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan: Her presidential prospects had been on a bit of a rollercoaster over her governorship, but once she won re-election by double digits in her purple state, she’s again riding high. She’s 51, good on TV, and has a record Democrats like. Even if she doesn’t run, she makes a lot of sense as a VP candidate for a male presidential nominee. Frankly, aside from Biden and Harris, I think she’s the most likely name to end up on the 2024 ticket, whether on top or bottom. Get used to the name Big Gretch.

There’s your premature top ten! Now we wait for President Biden’s decision.

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