With the presidential campaign season heating up, here are 10 of the leading candidates bidding for the chance to knock President Donald Trump from the White House.
Kamala Harris, a freshman senator and former attorney general of California, boasts a resume tailor-made for the Democratic candidacy: She's championed core causes like tax cuts for the middle class, immigration reform and protection for Planned Parenthood, as well as progressive elements like the single-payer Medicaid-for-all healthcare system and marijuana legalization. Furthermore, as the second African-American woman and first South Asian in the Senate, she represents the party's push to embrace diversity. Those itching for a fight with Trump can take comfort in Harris' formidable presence on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her prosecutorial background embellishes her reputation for toughness, though that same background has left her open to scrutiny about some of her contrasting actions as attorney general.
Like Harris, Cory Booker is seeking to become the second African-American president and, like the first, he possesses a gift for oratory infused with visions of unity and hope. Booker has been in the public eye since becoming a Newark city councilman at age 29 and then the city's mayor, his star growing through his early embrace of Twitter and good Samaritan feats like rescuing a neighbor from a burning building. In the Senate, he's probably best known for attention-grabbing questions on the Judiciary Committee, though he did score a legislative victory by co-sponsoring a criminal justice bill in 2018. With his rock star status and embrace of the party’s popular progressive stances, he's among the early favorites in the field.
Elizabeth Warren was one of the first major Democratic figures to announce her candidacy, underscoring her readiness to jump in the fray. With a clearly articulated agenda as a fighter for the middle class, the Massachusetts senator has introduced an ethics bill, proposed a billionaire tax and floated a constitutional amendment to guarantee voting rights. She also supports Medicaid-for-all and the Green Deal and has upped the ante on shutting out major donors from the political process. Undoubtedly one of the party's firebrands, she's also been dogged by lingering discomfort over her claims to Native American ancestry, an issue certain to remain in the news cycle as long as President Trump has access to Twitter.
What a difference four years makes. Heading into 2016, Bernie Sanders was the grassroots outsider who struck a chord with his calls for tuition-free public universities and eradicating big-money donors from politics. Now, the Vermont senator is the standard bearer for the Democratic Party's leftward march (even if technically an independent). Many of the major Democratic candidates have lined up to back his Medicaid-for-all healthcare system, while other proposals, like a $15 per hour minimum wage, have gone mainstream. Questions remain about his foreign-policy agenda, along with whether the party wants to turn to a younger generation of leadership.
Kirsten Gillibrand has come a long way since her early days as a congresswoman from a conservative New York district. Once known for her support of gun rights and opposition to same-sex marriage, she has since embraced such liberal causes as Medicaid-for-all and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). On her own, Gillibrand has emerged at the forefront of women's and family issues in the Senate by spearheading a universal paid family leave program and seeking to hold the military accountable for sexual harassment claims. More recently, she called on former colleague Al Franken to resign after accusations of improper behavior surfaced in late 2017.
Now in her third term as a Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar has presented herself as a moderate alternative to the increasingly progressive elements of her party. She has not joined the chorus clamoring for Medicaid-for-all, though she has highlighted climate change and income inequality as important issues. Furthermore, she boasts a formidable track record for getting things done with her focus on bipartisan policies to rein in the cost of prescription drugs and protect online privacy. Klobuchar will likely forge more of a connection to heartland voters than the coastal elites of her party, though her claims to being "Minnesota nice" have been undermined by reports of nastiness toward her staffers.
Among the next tier of recognizable names, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper also stands as a decided moderate in a progressively charged field. Noting the terrible "division" of the country, Hickenlooper points to his record as chief executive of a purple state as evidence of his ability to solve problems. Indeed, he not only pulled off the balancing act of passing gun control laws in a divided legislature, but he also established a model for recreational marijuana regulation that left Colorado with a booming economy by the end of his second term. Environmentalists have taken aim at his record, but Hickenlooper seemingly holds an ability to peel away some Trump votes with his pro-business chops.
Another lesser-known governor from the West, Jay Inslee raised his profile heading into the campaign cycle by serving as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and his frequent appearances on the cable-news circuit. He has far more in common with the progressives than he does with Hickenlooper, promoting a platform for gun restrictions, gay rights, spending on education, job training, and healthcare. He's also sought to angle himself as the leading proponent for climate-change policy, arguing that the issue is "connected to virtually every other value system," though he had mixed results in that department with Washington voters and lawmakers.
Like Booker, Julián Castro first made his mark as the youngest person elected to the San Antonio city council and then the city mayor, though his path took him to the Obama administration as secretary of Housing and Development and not the Senate. The son of an activist, Castro has portrayed himself as a Latino success story and the "antidote" to Trump's harsh rhetoric on immigrants. Along those lines, he's promoting a family theme, hailing his grandmother's work in raising him and naming his twin brother his campaign manager. On the issues, he espouses an agenda of comprehensive immigration reform, environmentalism and education, notably the introduction of a universal pre-kindergarten program.
A later entry to the race, Beto O'Rourke announced his candidacy a few months after his narrow loss to Ted Cruz for a Senate seat from deep-red Texas. A former three-term congressman from El Paso, the skateboarding O'Rourke packs a rock star persona to match those of Booker and Harris and his small-donor network is second only to that of Sanders. However, unlike the others, the Texan embarked on his campaign without a fully defined platform. He has made steps in that area, releasing a 10-point immigration plan and stressing a focus on climate change and criminal justice reform, though he has also delivered mixed messages about pet progressive issues like abolishing ICE.
After months of tiptoeing around the issue, Joe Biden announced his run on April 24, 2019, with a video that challenged President Trump's corruption of the "core values of this nation." As the veteran of six Senate terms and another two as vice president, Biden can point to his work in passing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the economic stimulus package of 2009, and he enjoys strong popularity among unions and working-class voters. On the other hand, he carries the #MeToo baggage of oversight of the 1991 Anita Hill hearings and revelations of invading personal space, along with a track record of 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns that fizzled. Biden topped most Democratic polls at the time he joined the fray, but many expect that ranking to slide once the primaries get down and dirty.
While lacking the name recognition and national network enjoyed by other candidates, Pete Buttigieg has emerged as an intriguing change-up to the progressive-moderate tug-of-war embodied by Sanders, Biden, Warren, et al. At 37, he is the youngest in the field, but also claims the most executive government experience after two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is progressive, supporting gun background checks and Green Deal policies, but also supports isolationist policies after his combat service in Afghanistan. And "Mayor Pete" would be the first openly gay nominee of a major political party, while also being one who can go toe-to-toe with evangelicals on issues of Christian faith.