There are at present 15 announced Democratic presidential candidates of sufficient stature to merit inclusion in polls, and probably in early debates (or 16 if you count newly announced Wayne Messam, which you probably should, since he’s mayor of a city — Miramar, Florida — that’s larger than Pete Buttigieg’s South Bend). It’s a very diverse field, with six women, three African-Americans, a Latino, an Asian-American, a married LGBTQ man, and candidates from every region and ideological tendency in the party. And that’s not to mention a non-candidate who leads every national and most state polls, Joe Biden.
But Biden aside, there are are at least eight other possible candidates still mulling a race. One of them is seriously buzzworthy: Stacey Abrams, the African-American legislator who narrowly lost a gubernatorial race in Georgia last year, and was subsequently buzzed about by Biden’s staff as a potential early Dream Ticket partner for Uncle Joe, until she quashed the speculation. The other seven are white men of varying stature: former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Representatives Tim Ryan of Ohio, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and Eric Swalwell of California; Montana governor Steve Bullock; New York mayor Bill de Blasio; and Colorado senator Michael Bennet.
There are those who consider Bullock, who’s delaying his decision on a possible race until his legislature adjourns, a quite viable candidate. Ryan got some buzz for challenging Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader in 2017, and seems to exemplify the Midwestern White Working-Class strategy for 2020, while Moulton is attractive to those who think Democrats have to have a robust appeal to veterans. I’m not sure what Swalwell’s particular appeal is supposed to be, and so far nobody’s taking de Blasio’s White House ambitions seriously. Bennet is a serious man with some serious admirers, but has the problem that his political patron, John Hickenlooper, is already in the race. And when you’re in danger of being overshadowed by John Hickenlooper, you’re probably not a first-tier candidate.
And then there’s the true poster boy for 2020 wannabe narcissism, Terry McAulliffe.
Certainly McAuliffe is qualified by conventional standards; he was an effective governor of Virginia, which surprised many critics who thought of him as a glad-handing shaker of money trees for the Clintons over the years. But exactly what does he bring to the table that the field actually needs? He’s one of a number of would-be aspirants for a “moderate lane” in the 2020 primaries. He seems to regard his chief qualification as his close ties to the business community, according to a recent interview:
McAuliffe pushed back against the notion that a billionaire like Bloomberg should be shunned by Democrats.
“This is a self-made man who created a vibrant business, thousands and thousands of people he hired, paid ‘em well and provided them with benefits,” McAuliffe said. “And that’s going to be a negative? I mean are you kidding me? That is the American success story. He is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.”
Elsewhere in the interview, McAuliffe said he’s “absolutely” a capitalist and defended a pair of controversial natural-gas pipelines being planned in Virginia, saying you can’t have manufacturing jobs without “cheap energy.”
It does not appear that McAuliffe is in close touch with the current Zeitgeist of the Democratic Party. But here’s the thing: Anyone with the kind of ego and taste for power that makes one successful in any avenue of politics is probably going to see the next president of the United States in the mirror now and then.
Future events could also shake up the field in some respects. Some think McAuliffe will only run if Joe Biden doesn’t. And on top of everything else, Biden’s most recent troubles are reportedly convincing one previously withdrawn proto-candidate, Michael Bloomberg, to rethink a 2020 candidacy after all. Yes, that’s right: another white guy.
When the incumbent is Donald J. Trump, the question “Why Not Me?” is going to occur to a lot of people. So expect an even more crowded field.