Get ready for the undercard debates. Democrats are completely out of power in Washington D.C. - for now, at least - but that hasn’t stopped a record number of them from eyeing the White House.
Up to 30 Democrats are considering a 2020 presidential campaign, a figure underlining the true level of ambition within the party amid a burning desire to defeat President Trump and one of the widest-open fields in recent memory.
Sixteen Democrats were tested in a CNN poll this month, ranging from old-timers like former Vice President Joe Biden and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to relative newcomers like California Sen. Kamala Harris and her New Jersey counterpart Sen. Cory Booker. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's DNA test was a sure sign she's running. Millennial heart-throb Bernie Sanders looks like he'll take the plunge
Billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is limbering up, former Obama attorney general Eric Holder is testing the waters, and bomb-throwing lawyer and provocateur Michael Avenatti is signaling he's in.
Other prominent names in the mix are Sens. Kirsten Gilibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has already declared. Texas candidate Beto O'Rourke may lose his U.S. Senate race in the Lone Star State but his supporters are urging him to go for the big one. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti seems to be running.
The true figure of eventual runners will almost certainly eclipse the 17 major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — which was in itself a far cry from “the seven dwarves,” as the 1988 Democratic presidential field was called.
CNN's 16 didn't count former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has remained a fixture since his ill-fated 2016 run, ex-Starbucks executive Howard Schultz, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who has said he is “likely” to run, or the stubbornly persistent Hillary Clinton, who refused to go away even after her star was substantially dimmed by her loss to Trump.
The probable next governor of California, Gavin Newsom, was not polled. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been to Iowa and New Hampshire while campaigning for Democratic candidates and finding himself the subject of magazine profiles. Billionaire environmentalist and pro-impeachment activist Tom Steyer has also been acting like a candidate, as has Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
A bevy of House members are vying for a profile high enough to run for president. This includes Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. Even South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu are telling everyone who will listen they'd like to give it a shot. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has been floated and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe seems keen.
If all of the above run, that's a field of 30.
That's not counting the possibility of various celebrities following in Trump’s footsteps. Even with Kanye West’s embrace of the president, the Democrats boast a far deeper bench of A-list famous people across the entertainment world who could conceivably launch a campaign. Oprah Winfrey may be the biggest name on this list, but she is far from the only one.
Right now, Biden and Sanders are the only candidates polling in the double digits. Sanders, an independent socialist who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, was Clinton’s main foil in the 2016 primaries.
These early polls could prove meaningless, as 2014 or 2015 surveys that showed Scott Walker and Rand Paul to be much more likely to win the Republican nomination than Trump. Or they could show an insurmountable advantage in name identification, much like the 1995 and 1999 leads enjoyed by Bob Dole and George W. Bush, respectively.
Biden and Sanders will both be in their late 70s, so it is conceivable neither will run. If that is the case, the race becomes even less predictable. Even if either or both run, the Democrats have traditionally been drawn to insurgents or relative unknowns. See George McGovern over the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, or Obama over Clinton.
The large number of Republican presidential candidates in 2016 forced changes in the debate format, with some lower-polling candidates never making it to the main stage but still getting “undercard” debate opportunities because of their credentials. Most political observers believe the unwieldiness also helped Trump win.
This sizeable crop of potential Democratic candidates comes as the party has reduced the role of its superdelegates — leaders who get a vote at the presidential nominating convention by virtue of the offices they hold rather than the primary or caucus results — in 2020.
If the Democratic presidential field really stretches all the way from Biden to little-known congressmen like Delaney, an asterisk candidate, things could get interesting.