Editor’s Note: Rolling Stone will soon update the 2020 leaderboard to reflect the impact of the primary debates in Detroit. For a preview of our thinking, read our assessments of the winners and losers from nights one and two of the debates, as well as our consolidated debate scorecard, grading the performance of all 20 candidates.
The first Democratic debates shook up the contours of the 2020 race, with Joe Biden falling back from undisputed frontrunner to join a crowded, four-contender pack, along with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and his new nemesis Kamala Harris.
Will the second round of debates on July 29 and 30th offer similar breakout moments for candidates seeking to join the top tier? Already Cory Booker is previewing his attacks on Biden over criminal justice reform — though Biden is promising supporters he won’t be so “polite” this time, prepared to punch back. With the sting of the first debate fading, and the former vice president’s poll numbers on the rebound, a strong performance could suggest that Biden’s status at the front of the pack is less precarious than it recently seemed.
The Michigan debates also feature a must-see face-off between the leading change agents in the race, with Sanders and Warren competing to differentiate their visions for sweeping transformation of America’s tax structure and social contract.
The Rolling Stone leaderboard is now tracking all twenty candidates who will stand on the debate stage in Detroit, and a handful who won’t. Those ranks include the billionaire activist Tom Steyer, whose bank account and increasingly relevant impeachment crusadecould leave a mark on the race yet.
1) Joe Biden
The first Democratic debates in Miami exposed Biden as unsteady — and unready to defend the many problematic parts of his record, including his coziness with segregationists and opposition to busing to integrate schools. One bad debate does not a campaign make. And while Biden now seems far from inevitable as the party’s 2020 nominee, the former vice president still offers America a seductive promise — a reboot from the Trump catastrophe. And rather than risk falling in love with a progressive New Hope, many rank-and-file Democrats, particularly older voters, seem happy to fall in line behind Biden, 76, who is raising plenty of cash: $21.5 million in the second quarter alone. At his Philadelphia kickoff rally in May, Biden touted his record as a Mr. Fixit: “I know how to make government work.”
Signature Policy: Biden has peerless foreign policy credentials and isn’t afraid to tout them: “I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president,” he’s said. “I know as much about American foreign policy [as] anyone around, including even maybe Kissinger.” (Read more about Biden’s platform.)
Signature Apology: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” Biden told reporters after being rebuked by multiple women for his space-invader style of politics. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. So that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sakes.”
RS Coverage: Joe Biden Is Not Helping
2) Elizabeth Warren
The Massachusetts senator continues to outpace her competitors on policy, including calling to wipe out student debtfor tens of millions of Americans. Warren is targeting Democrats who seek progressive purity from their 2020 champion, including in fundraising. Eschewing fundraisers with big contributors seeking political favors, Warren raised more than $19 million from grassroots donors in the second quarter, and joining Sanders as the only candidates with more than 1 million total donations. But unlike Sanders, who embraces the mantle of democratic socialism, the 70-year-old Warren is a capitalist at heart, having spent a career trying to make the system work for working people. As a law professor, she sparred with then Senator Joe Biden about the 2005 bankruptcy bill he backed, which Warren argued favored special interests. “At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families,” Warren has said, “Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.”
Signature Policy: Warren wants to address American inequality with a wealth tax, imposed annually on “ultra-millionaires,” to pay for benefits, including universal free or low-cost childcare, for “yacht-less Americans.” Fortunes greater than $50 million would be taxed at 2 percent. Billionaires would pay 3 percent. The proposal has greater than 60 percent support and would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years. (Read more about Warren’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Warren has apologized for conflating “family stories” about Cherokee heritage with native identity. “I am sorry,” Warren said, “for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
RS Coverage: Elizabeth Warren Wants to Wipe Out Student Debt for 42 Million Americans
3) Kamala Harris
Harris showed both fearlessness and surgical precision in attacking Biden in the Miami debates. The performance vaulted the 54-year-old former prosecutor back into the top tier of 2020 candidates, with a pair of polls even showing her in second place. The Californian stands astride the tectonic plates of the Democratic Party — an establishment politician who has adopted a platform responsive to the passion of the grassroots, including a Green New Deal and marijuana legalization. Her fundraising in the second quarter reflects success in sustaining this tricky balance: Harris raised $12 million, including $2 million in a post-debate surge. Black women are the heart of the Democratic Party, and seeing themselves reflected in the Howard University-educated Harris (born to Jamaican and Tamil Indian parents) could boost her prospects in an early-vote state like South Carolina.
Signature Policy: Harris has promised executive action to punish pay disparities. She would require companies to receive an “Equal Pay Certification” and fine one percent of corporate profits for every percent of wage gap that persists between male and female employees. (Read more about Harris’ platform.)
Signature Apology: Harris has accepted accountability for missteps as California’s attorney general: “The bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did.”
RS Coverage: Kamala Harris’ Moment
4) Bernie Sanders
The 77-year-old Sanders has dipped slightly in the polls, but he remains a force thanks to a potent combination of people-power and cash. His campaign announced in July that it raised $18 million in the second quarter, with an average donation of $18. And the campaign’s focus on grassroots organizing is peerless in the 2020 field. Sanders does not have the left lane to himself anymore — many candidates have embraced his once-distinctive proposals. But he is seen as an uncompromising champion of policies like Medicare for All. And he’s one-upped Warren’s income-based college debt relief by calling for a complete wipeout of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt.
Signature Policy: Sanders’ 2016 campaign set the table for 2020. He gets full credit for mainstreaming a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college. Sanders recently introduced the “For the 99.8% Act” that would sharply increase the estate tax, including imposing a 77 percent tax on estates in excess of $1 billion, raising an estimated $315 billion over a decade. (Read more about Sanders’ platform.)
Signature Apology: Sanders apologized to former female staffers for a 2016 campaign marred by pay disparities and allegations of sexual harassment by male staffers, promising to “do better” moving forward.
RS Coverage: On the Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0
5) Pete Buttigieg
The 37-year-old mayor vaulted from dark-horse to phenom in a matter of months, but has lately plateaued. Plainspoken and steeped in the values of the Christian left, Buttigieg has wowed pundits and prospective voters alike. He was featured in a photo-shoot in Vogue, and (with his husband Chasten) scored the cover of Time. Is “Mayor Pete” a true contender? His fundraising is prodigious: Buttigieg raised nearly $25 million in the second quarter alone. We only wish he were as quick to understand the traumas of black America as he was to learn Norwegian. Indeed, his lack of resonance with black voters is holding him back. In recent polls he’s registered at zero percent support among African Americans in South Carolina, Florida,and Mississippi
, despite scoring in or near double digits with whites.
Signature Policy: “The electoral college needs to go.” (Read more about Buttigieg’s platform.)
Signature Apology: After news reports revealed that Buttigieg declared “all lives matter” in 2015, Mayor Pete distanced himself from the comment, insisting he “did not understand” at the time that the slogan was “being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”
RS Coverage: Is America Ready for Mayor Pete?
6) Cory Booker
The former super-mayor of Newark, Booker is running on a values-heavy message of love, unity and “a revival of civic grace.” The 50-year-old has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, and he’s changed the conversation around federal cannabis legalization with his proposed Marijuana Justice Act. “I get angry when I see people taking just one step — legalizing marijuana — without doing anything to address past harms,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. Booker has also demonstrated his policy chops by unveiling an ambitious affordable housing plan that would provide tax credits to renters, increase housing investments in rural America, and push localities to reform their zoning laws that stand in the way of building more affordable housing units. But his outward liberalism has been undercut at times by problematic connections to Wall Street and Big Pharma. He vowed to not accept corporate PAC or lobbyist donations, and announced raising $4.5 million in the second quarter.
Signature Policy: Baby bonds. Booker would target the wealth gap in America by seeding “American Opportunity Accounts” for children that would allow kids from the poorest families to enter adulthood with a nest egg of up to $46,000 to invest in education, home ownership or retirement. (Read more about Booker’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Booker has disavowed the tough-on-crime approach he championed in his early days as Newark mayor. In his book United, Booker credits his then-chief of staff for delivering a wake-up call on racial disparities in policing: “He told me that if I had so quickly forgotten my own life experiences, I had my head up my large black posterior region.”
RS Coverage: Why Cory Booker Cares So Much About Legal Weed
7) Julián Castro
After toiling in relative obscurity since he entered the race in January, Castro had a breakout moment at the first Democratic debate. He spoke forcefully about the need to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings and make them a civil violation. He hammered fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke for not supporting that plan. His stage presence and command of the issues showed why Hillary nearly picked him as her 2016 running mate. The only Latino contender in the field, Castro, 44, is also one of the youngest. His “People First” policy agenda earned high marks for offering a sweeping immigration plan that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; an education overhaul that would reinvest in public education from pre-K through college; and a $5-billion plan to “eliminate lead poisoning as a major public health threat.”
Signature Policy: Pre-K for USA, nationwide universal pre-kindergarten programs, are the centerpiece of his People First education plan. “Investing in early childhood education isn’t just the right thing to do on behalf of our children,” Castro says. “It’s an investment that we can’t afford not to make.” (Read more about Castro’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In 2016, Castro apologized for dissing Trump and talking up Clinton while on the job as HUD secretary, a violation of the Hatch Act
. “When an error is made — even an inadvertent one — the error should be acknowledged,” Castro said. “I made one here.”
RS Coverage: Julian Castro Officially Enters the 2020 Presidential Race
8) Amy Klobuchar
The Minnesota senator’s understated persona stands in contrast to Trump’s bluster and bravado, winning her plaudits from conservatives including Washington Post columnist George Will and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. In theory, Klobuchar should benefit from a near-home-field advantage in neighboring Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucus. But the latest poll has her bumping along at 4 percent support. Klobuchar didn’t score any major breakthroughs in the Miami debates, but voter opinions of her improved incrementally after she argued she could win in the “reddest of districts.”
Signature Policy: Known for playing small-ball, Klobuchar has emphasized her record of enacting practical laws that have reduced the backlog of rape kits and banned lead in toys. If Biden continues to decline, Klobuchar seems likely to corral some of his moderate-minded voters. (Read more about Klobuchar’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Klobuchar has been dogged by reports she abused and demeaned staff, including by throwing a binder that “accidentally” hit a staffer. The senator has admitted she has pushed employees “too hard” at times and can be a “tough boss,” but added she just wants to hold her employees — and the country — to high standards.
RS Coverage: Amy Klobuchar on Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh and the Road Ahead
9) Beto O’Rourke
After firing up the nationwide political machine that helped him nearly topple Texas mega-villain Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, O’Rourke began his presidential bid with a burst of cash and momentum, but stalled out almost immediately. In May, just six weeks after his official launch, O’Rourke attempted a campaign re-set, apologizing for a Vanity Fair cover timed to his launch, and swearing off money from fossil fuel executives under pressure from environmental activists. His troubles followed him onto the debate stage in Miami, where it was clear O’Rourke’s rivals were out for blood. New York mayor Bill de Blasio chided Beto for supporting a broken private insurance system, and fellow Texan Castro castigated him for not doing “his homework” on immigration. O’Rourke’s fundraising has also seen a precipitous drop off, falling from $9.4 million in the first quarter to $3.6 in the second.
Signature Policy: O’Rourke has struggled to find his policy niche. A former representative for El Paso, he first prioritized immigration reform, before turning to climate policy, most recently pivoting to veterans, proposing to boost services through an annual “war tax” on non-military families. (Read more about O’Rourke’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Beto was arrested for drunk-driving at 26, which he’s called a “terrible mistake.”
RS Coverage: Beto O’Rourke Shares the Story of His Old Band, Foss — and a Single
10) Jay Inslee
Inslee made sure the climate crisis got at least some discussion in the first round of Democratic debates, despite the moderators largely avoiding the subject. “We have to understand that this is a climate crisis, an emergency,” he said. “This is our last chance,” Inslee insisted of the next administration, “to do something about it.” The Washington state governor has built his campaign around the climate issue, leading the pack of 2020 contenders with ambitious, detailed climate policy proposals. In mid-May, Inslee unveiled his Evergreen Economy Plan, which calls for $3 trillion in federal spending to “defeat climate change” and create 8 million jobs. Inslee, 69, has also led the charge to pressure the DNC to host an official climate-specific debate — a demand the committee has so far refused.
Signature Policy: Fighting climate change. Inslee’s track record includes creating a $120 million clean-energy fund, directing his state government to set new caps on emissions (now being challenged in court) and launching the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of 22 governors implementing the Paris climate accord. (Read more about Inslee’s platform.)
RS Coverage: Jay Inslee Wants to Be the First Climate President. Is America Ready?
11) Tulsi Gabbard
An Iraq war vet, Gabbard, 38, is the first Hindu to serve in the House of Representatives. She has introduced a bipartisan bill with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to legalize marijuana, and made a strong impression in the June debates blasting Trump’s “chickenhawk” Cabinet and the administration’s saber-rattling at Iran. Gabbard has also ruffled feathers within her own party. After Attorney General William Barr released his controversial, four-page summary of the Mueller report, Gabbard said that it was time to “put aside partisan interests” and “move forward.”
Signature Policy: Appealing to dovish Democrats, Gabbard has staked her campaign in opposition to wars of regime change. But her foreign policy credentials are worrying: She visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2017 on a secret “fact-finding” mission and dismissed his opposition — across the board — as terrorists. Gabbard’s rollout also received an unsettling signal boost from Kremlin-backed English language media networks, RT and Sputnik. (Read more about Gabbard’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Into adulthood, Gabbard espoused virulently anti-LGBTQ views. She released an apology videosaying, “In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong.”
RS Coverage: We’ve Hit a New Low in Campaign Hit Pieces
12) Kirsten Gillibrand
Gillibrand has framed 2020 as a contest between bravery and fear, and herself as the Democrats’ own Fearless Girl™ (complete with Wall Street funding). Gillibrand, 52, is distinguishing herself as the first candidate to speak up when it comes to the issues most important to women. She has called for codifying Roe and repealing the Hyde Amendment, and she has promised to appoint only pro-choice judges. Nonetheless, Gillibrand’s bid has struggled to gain traction, and she wasn’t able to help her cause during the first Democratic debates in June. According to a post-debate poll, more Democratic voters said their opinion of Gillibrand worsened, rather than improved, based on her performance.
Signature Policy: In addition to her commitment to protecting women’s rights, Gillibrand has unveiled a Family Bill of Rights, which would include universal pre-K, national paid family leave, and measures to ensure child care is accessible and affordable. (Read more about Gillibrand’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Gillibrand began her 2020 bid with frank apologies for her anti-immigrant past as a Blue Dog Democrat representing Upstate New York: “I was callous to the suffering of families who want to be with their loved ones,” she told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “Looking back, I just really regretted that I didn’t look beyond my district.”
RS Coverage: Gillibrand: ‘Trump Has Started a War on America’s Women. And He’s Going to Lose’
13) Andrew Yang
The most unlikely grassroots sensation of 2020, Yang is a businessman who founded Venture for America, working to revitalize struggling urban centers by training and fostering entrepreneurs in cities like Detroit and New Orleans. Yang’s campaign raised $2.8 million in the second quarter, as his campaign became cultivated meme-warrior members of the #YangGang. Expectations were high that Yang could make a stir in the first debates. Instead his performance fell flat, as he failed to make a clear pitch, even on his signature policy of free money from the government. Yang apologized to his fans on Twitter, vowing to “do better” in future debates.
Signature Policy: The 44-year-old is running on a platform of a universal basic income, to counteract the worst effects of automation in the workforce. Yang spoke at length to Rolling Stone about his “Freedom Dividend,” insisting: “You want to universalize it so it’s seen as a true right of citizenship.” (Read more about Yang’s platform.)
RS Coverage: ‘I Came From the Internet’: Inside Andrew Yang’s Wild Ride
14) Bill de Blasio
The mayor of New York since 2014, de Blasio made a forceful appeal on the debate stage for Democrats to be the party of working people, embracing a mix of policy proposals from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Though de Blasio, 58, has his sights set on Washington, he has plenty of problems to address closer to home. His approval rating in New York is hovering in the low-40s. And his national disapproval numbers top the field. A recent poll found that 42 percent of Democrats and independents think he should drop out.
Signature Policy: Implemented universal pre-K in New York City. (Read more about de Blasio’s platform.)
Signature Apology: After the first Democratic debate in Miami in late June, de Blasio attended a strike by airport workers, declaring, “Hasta la victoria, siempre.” This, unfortunately for hizzoner, was the battle cry of one Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the revolutionary and Fidel Castro lieutenant who is despised in much of South Florida. “I did not know the phrase I used in Miami today was associated with Che Guevara & I did not mean to offend anyone who heard it that way,” de Blasio tweeted. “I only meant it as a literal message to the striking airport workers that I believed they would be victorious in their strike.”
RS Coverage: Why Are Marijuana Policies So Behind in 4/20-Heavy Places Like New York?
15) Marianne Williamson
One of Oprah’s favorite self-help gurus is campaigning to give the United States a “moral and spiritual awakening.” Williamson, 66, has limited political experience: She once finished fourth in a congressional primary in California. But she says she’s pursuing the presidency on a track record of helping transform “moral dysfunction.” Her debate performance was otherworldly, and not it a good way. But she Williamson’s brand of woo has earned her millions of fans. Nobody knows where this is going.
Signature Policy: Called for $100 billion in reparations for black people, distributed over 10 years. Scholars have estimated a fair value for reparations at between $6 and $14 trillion. (Read more about Williamson’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In her Prayer of Apology to African Americans, the bestselling author apologizes for slavery, lynchings, white supremacist laws, the denial of voting rights, the denial of civil rights, unequal treatment of Black Americans in the criminal justice system, police brutality, economic injustice and more, asking God for forgiveness. “May the screams that were not allowed, be allowed now / May the cries that were never heard be heard now / May the tears that were never heard be heard now./And may the healing begin / In this sacred container, may the healing begin / May the Light of love now heal us all / Amen.”
RS Coverage: Marianne Williamson Is the Cosmic Sorceress We Need Now
16) Tom Steyer
The progressive billionaire best known for leading an impeachment crusade against president Trump threw his hat into the crowded 2020 ring on July 9th, promising to betray his class and wrest political power from America’s moneyed interests. Steyer has plenty of cash to help overcome his late start. He’s vowed to spend $100 million on his campaign.
Signature Policy: Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign has signed up more than 8 million Americans seeking Trump’s constitutional removal. (This list could provide Steyer with a formidable grassroots base.) “It’s important to stand up for the American democracy,” Steyer has told Rolling Stone about the fight for impeachment. “We believe fighting against a reckless and lawless president is not something that will turn off voters.”
RS Coverage: A Conversation With Tom Steyer, the Liberal Billionaire Bankrolling Trump’s Impeachment
17) Steve Bullock
The Montana governor with a Deadwood-worthy name could be a 2020 dark horse. He entered the race in May and was shut out of the Miami debates. But his polling has improved and he’ll be on the stage in Michigan. Even in a crowded field, Bullock’s experience stands out. He won statewide office in a state Trump carried by 20 points — and then got a GOP-majority legislature to agree to expand Medicaid. He raised $2 million in his debut fundraising quarter.
Signature Policy: The 53-year-old has focused on ending the influence of unlimited political contributions and dark money. “If we wanna address all the other big issues,” he said in a stump speech in Iowa, “you’re not gonna be able to do it unless you also address the way money is affecting our system.” (Read more about Bullock’s platform.)
Signature Apology: A former Bullock aide, fired for sexual harassment, went on to harass again in the office of the mayor of New York City. “I should have done more to ensure future employers would learn of his behavior,” Bullock wrote in February. “These realizations come too late for the two women in New York City. For that, I’m deeply sorry.”
RS Coverage: The Democrats’ Battle for Montana
18) John Delaney
The former Maryland Congressman, 56, has been running for president since July 2017. Delaney preaches a relentlessly bipartisan message of national unity. One thing that won’t slow him down is funding: Delaney is worth close to $100 million and is largely self-financing his campaign. (He raised only $284,000 in the second quarter.) An entrepreneur in high finance, he launched two companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. In June, he was booed at a Democratic event for describing Medicare-for-All as “not good policy.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested he “sashay away” from the primary. He got little respect or airtime at the June debates, with even the moderators shutting him down.
Signature Policy: Delaney is promoting a national youth service program to bring the country together. (Read more about Delaney’s platform.)
RS Coverage: John Delaney Says He’s ‘Skating to Where the Puck Is Going’
19) Michael Bennet
The 54-year-old senator is campaigning for a return to integrity in government and a revival of American economic mobility. A former chief of staff to then-Denver mayor Hickenlooper, Bennet positions himself as “pragmatic idealist” and has been calling for Democrats to temper ideas like packing the Supreme Court. He has been lauded by “Morning” Joe Scarborough for combining “an Ivy League pedigree” with “a common touch” and for his “commitment to key centrist fiscal policies.” (The alleged common touch was MIA in Miami, where Bennet spoke with a patrician accent and denounced Chinese “mercantilism.”) Bennett raised a respectable $2.8 million in the second quarter.
Signature Policy: Medicare X. With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bennet is proposing legislation to create, and slowly roll out, a public option for the Obamacare state marketplaces, with the same doctor and hospital networks as Medicare, and similar reimbursement rates. Bennet has called Medicare-for-All, which would disrupt existing health care plans for millions, “a bad opening offer.” (Read more about Bennet’s platform.)
RS Coverage: The 21st Democratic Presidential Candidate Has Entered the 2020 Race — Make It Stop
20) John Hickenlooper
Colorado’s former governor, 67, markets himself as a centrist who can bring opposing interests to the table. “I am who I am,” Hickenlooper told Rolling Stone. “True to that north star.” But on the debate stage Hickenlooper’s top priority seemed to be defusing the GOP’s attack that Democrats are “socialists.” (Note to Hick: GOP will blast the 2020 nominee as a socialist, regardless.) Hickenlooper raised just $1.1 million in the second quarter and recently took responsibility for being the central “problem” of his own campaign.
Signature Policy: In the wake of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and dozens injured, Hickenlooper’s state government passed background checks and magazine capacity limits
. (Read more about Hickenlooper’s platform.)
Signature Apology: In 2014, Hickenlooper apologized to local sheriffs for not consulting them before pushing a gun-control measure, but didn’t take well to being pressed further on the issue by one officer at a public forum. “How many apologies do you want? What the fuck?,” the governor said. “I apologize!”
RS Coverage: John Hickenlooper Believes He Can Be the Bridge
21) Tim Ryan
A nine-term congressman, Ryan represents post-industrial Youngstown, Ohio, and wants Democrats to compete for the disaffected voters who turned to Trump in 2016. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ryan, 45, insisted: “I think we need an absolute, aggressive campaign in rural America, because I think we can win those voters back.” Ryan has begun to register in national polls, but he got pummeled on the debate stage in Miami by Gabbard after suggesting the U.S. needs to recommit to the endless war in Afghanistan. Ryan raised only $876,000 in the second quarter.
Signature Policy: The centerpiece of Ryan’s candidacy is a long-term industrial strategy to make the U.S. competitive with China in industries like automotive, solar, wind and clean manufacturing. (Read more about Ryan’s platform.)
RS Coverage: Tim Ryan: ‘We Need an Absolute, Aggressive Campaign in Rural America’
22) Seth Moulton
Moulton, 40, is a former Marine captain who served four tours in Iraq. He has made his experience in war a centerpiece of his campaign. Moulton has been frank about his struggles with PTSD, stemming from bearing witness to civilian casualties: “My story is one of success because I got help for it,” he’s said. “I decided to talk to someone, to see a therapist.” Moulton has also used his first-hand foreign policy experience to challenge his “mentor” Joe Biden, telling CNN: “I do think that it’s time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.” Moulton did not qualify for the first debate in Miami and has been shut out again in Michigan.
Signature Policy: “Democrats should be the party of national defense,” Moulton has told Rolling Stone. “We have a commander in chief who is reckless. We need a smart, strong national security strategy,” he said. “We do that by having credible voices in the party who can speak on matters of national security because they’ve been out there on the ground themselves.” (Read more about Moulton’s platform.)
Signature Apology: Moulton has not apologized for his role in attempting to deny Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel, but concedes that she’s done a “good job” since resuming the post.
RS Coverage: Seth Moulton Wants to Bring Mental Health into the 2020 Conversation
23) Wayne Messam
The mayor of fast-growing Miramar, Florida, Messam has a low national profile. But the 45-year-old was recently elected to a third term in the Miami suburb (with more residents than South Bend, Indiana) and the former football standout has set his sights on Washington. His cash-strapped campaign reportedly missed payroll in April and lost key staff. He did has been shut out of the debates.
Signature Policy: Messam has called for statehood for Puerto Rico, and was the first Democrat to call for cancelling all student debt. “It’s interesting to see other candidates now beginning to start to put out a proposal,” Messam said in West Des Moines, referencing Warren’s debt-relief plan. (Read more about Messam’s platform.)
24) Joe Sestak
The former three-star Navy admiral and two-term congressman threw his hat into the 2020 ring in mid-June, and has been spotted stumping before sparse crowds in Iowa. Sestak is a name political junkies will remember from his failed bids for a senate seat from Pennsylvania. In 2010 he unseated the party-switching Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary, before losing to Republican Pat Toomey in the general. (Sestak lost an expensive Democratic primary race in 2016.) He did not qualify for the debates in Detroit.
Signature Policy: Sestak is campaigning on his military and foreign policy credentials insisting he “has the depth of global experience to restore America’s leadership in the world.”
Chaos Agent: Mike Gravel
Political observers weren’t sure if former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel was serious, joking or hacked when his long-dormant Twitter account sputtered to life late one March night with a “#Gravel2020” tweet. It turned out to be a little bit of all three: A trio of teenagers from New York state had convinced the anti-war octogenarian, famous for making the Pentagon papers public, to mount a protest bid for the Democratic nomination. David Oks and Elijah Emery, high school seniors in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and Henry Williams, a freshman at Columbia University, initially just wanted to get Gravel on the debate stage to push the other candidates in a more progressive direction. They did not achieve that goal, but that hasn’t stopped the teens from mercilessly roasting the rest of the field on Twitter. For his part, Gravel approves of the shitposting, he’s just asked that the teens refrain from using curse words.
Signature Policy: According to the teens, the chief animating issue of Gravel 2020 is a bold promise to “end all wars.” According to Gravel himself, the reason he agreed to run was to advance awareness about his passion for direct democracy. Gravel is writing a book that lays out an argument for a “Legislature of the People” that would empower individual citizens to make and vote on laws. (Gravel believes such a system could be implemented via a Constitutional amendment.)
Signature Apology: In May, Gravel dismissed fellow 2020 candidate Buttigieg, saying he “really doesn’t say anything more than the fact that he’s gay, and that energizes the gay community.” In a statement posted to Twitter the next day, Gravel apologized, voicing support for “queer liberty,” while nonetheless ramping up his attacks on Mayor Pete, blasting Buttigieg’s decision to work for the consulting firm McKinsey, declaring: “A Buttigieg presidency unequivocally threatens the well-being of people the world over who are subject to America’s imperialist whims. He supports drone strikes, concealing war crimes, and growing our military-industrial complex. There is simply too much life at stake to entertain the deadly ambitions of this McKinsey cypher.”
RS Coverage: The Teens Have Officially Convinced Mike Gravel to Run for President
2020 Campaign Graveyard
Here lie the presidential ambitions of fallen Democratic contenders
Dropped out: 1/25/19, after 79 days
Parting Words: “When I was a kid in grade school, my teachers always said that anyone could grow up and become president. Unfortunately, what I’m starting to realize is that unless you have wealth, influence and power, it’s not gonna happen.”
Last Wish: “Whoever does win the presidency needs to be somebody who is willing to check Big Pharma.”
Dropped Out: 7/8/19, after 91 days
Parting Words: “Weaknesses will be flushed out and a leader will emerge.”
Last Wish: That the eventual nominee supports an assault weapons ban and buyback
Love our rankings? Disagree with a passion? Tell us what we got right — or wrong — on Twitter: @RSPolitics. This leaderboard is updated regularly.