The 2020 Democratic ballot is getting crowded, fast

Ysabela Golden

It’s not every election that the party opposing a sitting president has to start planning their primary debate a year early in order to make sure it can accommodate all of its candidates. Political pundits in 2016 thought seventeen Republican candidates was flooding the field; this year, they’ve been surprised again by the almost three dozen presidential hopefuls eyeing the Democratic nomination. The Democratic National Committee, wary of once again being accused of favoring a specific candidate, have announced their plans for two consecutive evenings of at least a dozen total televised debates in order to give every candidate a taste of the limelight. Not only is the Democratic presidential field unusually crowded, they’re showing up unusually early to the party – by early February we already had more candidates than many previous elections did by their primaries. In most presidential elections, even the early hopefuls usually wait to announce their candidacies until March

The most looming of these early announcements has doubtlessly been that of last election’s Democratic runner-up, Bernie Sanders. Not only is he a contentious opponent for the newcomers who watched or even actively supported his candidacy in the 2016 primaries, the $6 million campaign donations he raised within 24 hours of announcing his 2020 intentions are hard to ignore. In combination with the $9 million the Vermont Senator has left over from his Senate campaign, Sanders is (ironically, considering his policies on campaign funding) a financial giant among the dozens of Democratic hopefuls.

His policies, however, are no longer so unique – now that Sanders has brought more radical leftist ideas into the mainstream, he faces the unusual problem of facing down candidates whose policies were inspired by his own. On Feb. 19, Elizabeth Warren introduced a revolutionary proposal for universal child care, and she alongside her opponents Julián Castro and Kamala Harris have come out in support of reparations for African American families still adversely affected by a past of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Reparations for slavery is notably a subject that previous Democratic dominants Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton refused to touch, and one even the radical Bernie Sanders wouldn’t support when questioned on it during his 2016 campaign.

Now that the Democratic line has been drawn further to the left, it’s easy to see how an older candidate like Sanders could be pushed to the side by younger Democrats echoing policies that were revolutionary in 2016. At 77, a 2020 turn in the White House would see him into his 80’s before the end of his term – though age isn’t exactly a deal breaker for Democrats, considering that the favorite of many is Joe Biden, who’s only Sanders’ junior by a single year at 76 years old himself. Though he hasn’t even announced his candidacy yet – some Democrats still remember how to arrive fashionably late, it seems – Biden has famously expressed that 2020 is his last chance to run, and that he’s “the most qualified person in the country to be president.”

Of course, people thought there was a chance of Biden running in 2016 as well. But this upcoming presidential election has something new going for it, something that has Democrats everywhere scrambling all over each other for the nomination a year in advance. Roughly four years ago, when Republicans were jumping to announce their candidacy, Democrats stood back for what felt like the inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton. This year, there is no such obvious front-runner – not just within their party, but in the country at large. While Trump digs in his heels at the White House, his potential opponents see him as particularly vulnerable for an incumbent commander in chief. Only time will tell if they’ve judged him correctly.