The Democrats who could be facing Trump in 2020 – everything you need to know

From high-profile frontrunners Biden and Sanders to rising stars like Kamala Harris and Beto O'Rourke

We’re two years into the Trump Presidency (yes, it has felt much longer) and plans are already being drawn up for the race to the White House in 2020.

Trump himself signalled his plans to run again on the day of his inauguration back in 2017 and has since indicated that he’ll keep current Veep Mike Pence by his side as running mate, with plans to print new red hats to reflect their slightly altered campaign slogan of “Keep America Great”.

Coming on the back of success in the midterms last November (although it wasn’t quite the “blue wave” that many had predicted), the Democrats will now spend the year or so deciding who they want to put up against Trump (presuming he does indeed follow through with running for a second term). Democratic voters will be able to have their say on who they prefer in a series of state-by-state primaries and caucuses, starting in February 2020 and leading up to the Democratic National Convention in July of that year.

Candidates have until this October to place their names on ballots, and the race to face Trump is pretty saturated already, with high-profile names such as Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren already declaring their intent to run and heavyweight figures like Joe Biden toying with the idea. The public support behind rising star Beto O’Rourke could also force his way into the running too.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Democrats that could be facing Trump in 2020.

Who’s in the running?

Bernie Sanders

Who?

Sanders was a fringe figure in US politics until his insurgent Presidential campaign in 2016. The Senator for Vermont since 2007, he was previously the state’s House of Representative member from 1991 onwards and the Mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989. He’s the longest-serving independent in US political history, although he’s closely linked to – and caucuses with – the Democrats.

What are his politics like?

A self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist” (traditionally a rarity in American politics), Sanders became the poster politician for US progressives during his 2016 Presidential campaign, which eventually saw him lose out on the Democratic candidacy to Hillary Clinton. Sanders wants to increase the minimum wage, supports universal healthcare, believes college should be free, advocates for criminal justice reform and calls for bigger taxes on the mega-rich.

Chances of facing Trump?

Sanders is definitely among the favourites. He boasts more of a millennial and progressive appeal than Biden and is far more established a public name now than he was at the start of his 2016 bid.

However, his age remains an issue. At 77, Sanders is five years older than Trump, who already holds the record for being the oldest first-term President ever. Sanders’ 2016 campaign was also recently the subject of allegations of sexism and gender pay discrimination, and Sanders responded by saying that he would “do better” in future campaigns.

Kamala Harris

Who?

Californian Senator Harris has only been in office since 2017 but is a former District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of her home state and has long been described as the “female Obama”. Born in Oakland to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris is California’s third female Senator and the first Senator of either Jamaican or Indian heritage.

What are her politics like?

Announcing her Presidential campaign in January, Harris vowed to fight for the “largest middle class tax cut in a generation”. She’s pro-choice, supports gun-control legislation and has signalled that she would “stand up to the climate change deniers”.

Despite describing herself as a “progressive prosecutor” though, some critics have questioned Harris’ criminal justice record and pointed to her defence of the prison system and supposed inaction and lack of investigation into instances of police brutality during her time as California’s Attorney General.

Chances of facing Trump?

Harris has been described by some as the Democrats’ “best bet”, with 8.9% naming her as their preferred choice in recent polls (behind only Biden and Sanders). She’s said to boast strong appeal among black, Hispanic and Asian voters, but only moderate approval amongst millennials and the left.

Elizabeth Warren

Who?

Oklahoma-born Warren has been the senior Senator for Massachusetts since 2013 and has served as Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus since 2017. A scholar with a speciality in bankruptcy law, Warren was a Special Advisor to President Obama from 2010 to 2011. Formerly a registered Republican, she switched political allegiance to the Dems in 1996.

What are her politics like?

Warren’s political views have often been compared to that of Bernie Sanders’ and she announced her Presidential campaign on New Year’s Eve with a populist economic message, declaring: “America’s middle class is under attack. How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.”

However, unlike Sanders, Warren has repeatedly self-identified as a capitalist, telling The Atlantic: “I believe in markets and the benefits they can produce when they work. Markets with rules can produce enormous value.” She’s also faced controversy over claims of Native American ancestry.

Chances of facing Trump?

Warren is one of the frontrunners of those who have officially declared themselves so far. She’s just behind Harris in polling (5.9%) and commentators have said that her early campaign has “hit the ground running”.

Tulsi Gabbard

Who?

Gabbard is an Iraq War veteran who has been a member of the House of Representatives for Hawaii since 2012. The daughter of long-serving Hawaiian Senator Mike Gabbard, she was born in American Samoa before moving to Hawaii at the age of two. She’s the first Samoan-American and practising Hindu to be elected to Congress.

What are her politics like?

Gabbard endorsed Sanders in the last Democratic primaries, supports universal health care, opposes nuclear energy and, despite her military background, has urged the US to avoid “interventionist wars of regime change”.

However, Gabbard’s past anti-LGBTQ commentsviews on Islam and stance on gun control, as well as previous meetings with President Trump and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, have led to her being labelled as “a paradox for the left”. In January, she released a video apologising for her previous remarks about gay rights, saying that her “past position” were “at odds” with her current beliefs.

Chances of facing Trump?

The controversies following Gabbard’s launch have led some commentators to remark that her campaign chances “may be over before it starts”.

Cory Booker

Who?

Born in Washington DC and growing up in New Jersey, Booker has been United States Senator for New Jersey since 2013. Before that, he had served as Mayor of Newark for seven years.

What are his politics like?

Booker was recently found to be the third most liberal Democratic Senator (behind Warren and Harris and, somewhat surprisingly, ahead of Sanders), although he is not without his progressive critics, with many pointing to his apparent ties to Wall Street.

In the build-up to his campaign, Booker painted a positive message, saying: “This is not a time to meet hate with hate. It is not a time to meet darkness with darkness. The call of our country has always been love.” In his launch video, he then promised to “channel our common pain back into our common purpose”, while he has also refused to accept donations from corporate lobbyist groups.

Chances of facing Trump?

Booker is a relative newcomer to the race, having announced his bid on 1 February. He’s currently behind Harris and Warren in some polls, commanding the same kind of polling as the not-yet-declared Beto O’Rourke.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Who?

Albany native Gillibrand has been Senator for New York since 2009, having previously served as a member of the House of Representatives for New York’s 20th district from 2007. Prior to becoming a politician, Gillibrand worked as an attorney and also a campaigner for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.

What are her politics like?

Gillibrand has been increasingly vocal on gender issues during recent years, including speaking out about the injustice facing women in the workplace and the need to combat sexual abuse and violence. This has led her to being dubbed by some as the “#MeToo Senator”. Gillibrand also boasts the most anti-Trump voting record of any current Democratic Senator.

However, Gillibrand’s critics have described her as a “political weather vane”, arguing that she “has changed tacks to take advantage of changing political winds on both economic and social issues” after holding far more moderate views in the past.

Chances of facing Trump?

Within a crowded race, Gillibrand only attracted around 1% of votes in a recent poll. However, the press secretary Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign Brian Fallon has tipped Gillibrand for success. “There’s a tenacity to her,” he told The Guardian. “She’s willing to ruffle feathers and throw elbows.”

Others officially in the running

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is hoping to become the first openly gay President in US history, while Julián Castro, who was the youngest member of the Obama Cabinet, has also formally launched his bid. Maryland Congressman John Delaney, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur and author Andrew Yang (who appears to have the backing of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, no less) and Oprah’s “spiritual advisor” Marianne Williamson are also confirmed to run. All of these can be regarded as outsiders.

Who could still enter the race?

Joe Biden

Who?

You probably know all about Joe Biden by now – from his ‘bromance’ with President Obama to the endless memes. He served as Obama’s VP from 2009 to 2017 and had previously been Senator for Delaware from 1973. Since leaving office, Biden has embarked on a book promo and speaking tours across America.

What are his politics like?

Due to his association with the Obama administration, as well as a lifetime spent in politics, Biden will be seen as a moderate and part of the political establishment by many progressives. In a polarised political landscape, you could see a Biden campaign offering a centralist alternative, as Politico put it: “By criticising the views of both Berniecrats and Trumpites, Biden is positioning himself as the antidote to populism in all its forms and flavours.”

Chances he’ll run – and then face Trump?

Biden is by far the most popular in the polls, commanding an approval rating that’s almost double that of his closest competitor (Sanders). However, this has led some some critics to compare Biden to his predecessor Clinton: “He’s among the most popular politicians in America. So was Hillary Clinton before her 2016 campaign for president.”

He hasn’t yet officially stated that he will run for a third time, but most commentators predict that he will in due course. “I’ll be as straight with you as I can. I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be President,” he said during a public speech in Montana in December.

Beto O’Rourke

Who?

O’Rourke, who hails form El Paso, served as Congressman for Texas’ 16th district from 2012 to January 2019, having previously been a City Councillor in his hometown from 2005 to 2011. He narrowly lost out in the 2018 midterms, having challenged Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race. Gaining the most votes for a Democrat in any Texas election in history, Beto achieved 48.3% of the votes to Cruz’s 50.9% in the traditionally red state.

He was also previously in a band with Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta.

What are his politics like?

Like Biden, O’Rourke could attract many centralist voters, as well as Republicans who are disillusioned by Trump. Although traditionally Democrat on many social issues (he’s pro-choice, supports the legalisation of marijuana and wants to improve Obamacare and expand Medicaid), O’Rourke’s bipartisan leanings have seen him be dubbed as “the new Obama”.

However, he’s been criticised in recent months for frequently voting for Republican legislation, with one writer dismissing him as “another photogenic media star with run-of-the-mill liberal politics”.

Chances he’ll run – and then face Trump?

O’Rourke’s run against Cruz saw him receive public endorsements from stars like BeyonceLin-Manuel Miranda and LeBron James. Beto’s astute use of both grassroots and digital campaigning has seen him tipped as as “the hottest thing in Democratic politics” – so much so that people are campaigning for him to become President even before he’s formally announced his bid.

He’s been toying with the idea of running for months now (while blogging about running) and could provide a clearer statement of intent with an upcoming high-profile interview with Oprah Winfrey (to air on 16 February).

Can Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez run in 2020?

No. Ocasio-Cortez, who recently became the youngest person elected to Congress, is 29 and the US Constitution states that the President needs to be at least 35 years of age. Seeing as it’s pretty laborious to amend the US Constitution, AOC will have to wait until the 2024 election at the earliest.

And what about Howard Schultz?

Former Starbucks CEO Schultz is said to be considering running for President in 2020 as an Independent, which has been met with a massive backlash from Democrats who say that the move would only splinter the liberal vote and help Trump’s chances of reelection.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who previously considered running as an Independent, criticised Schultz, saying in a statement: “We must remain united, and we must not allow any candidate to divide or fracture us. The stakes couldn’t be higher.”