The Democratic presidential field already looks crowded

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BERNIE SANDERS, a Senator from Vermont and the sole meaningful opponent to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, has once again declared his intention to run for the presidency. On February 19th he promised his supporters a continuation of his 2016 insurgent campaign, saying that “it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for.” Mr Sanders has clear advantages in his high name recognition and network of small donors. But it is far too early to make bold predictions about who is likely to clinch the Democratic nomination. Polls fielded at this stage of the race are extremely unreliable at predicting the eventual winner, and even the wisdom of betting markets is highly volatile.

Bernie Sanders

Senator from Vermont

Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders is trying for the Democratic presidential nomination for a second time. After a long campaign—and, in the minds of some supporters, a bitter defeat—against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Mr Sanders is hoping his progressivism-first strategy will serve him well again. This time, however, voters have plenty of options if they want a candidate who supports “Medicare for All”, sweeping economic reforms and other such “Democratic socialist” policies. Dogged by accusations that his 2016 campaign was unfriendly to women and non-whites, and without a clear policy agenda to set him apart, Mr Sanders might have to rely on his energy as a campaigner, which is notably good for a 77-year-old. Betting markets still give him a good chance of winning, and for what they’re worth so long before people start voting, polls suggest he has a decent shot, too.

Amy Klobuchar

Senator from Minnesota

Amy Klobuchar

Ms Klobuchar’s entry may be seen as an opportunity for a wide breadth-over-depth approach to the primary. The Midwestern senator has an obvious advantage in hailing from a region where Democrats are keen on boosting numbers next November. Not least of the motivators for this strategy is, of course, that Donald Trump managed to flip three Rust Belt states in 2016 to give him the Oval Office. Ms Klobuchar’s appeal goes beyond her geographic advantage, however. Liberals will find much to love in her endorsement of progressive goals like automatic voter registration and reinstating climate regulations. Meanwhile, voters who switched from Barack Obama to Mr Trump will adore her stumps on corporate greed, revolving-door lobbying, and prioritisation of expanded bad-weather crop insurance.

Cory Booker

Senator from New Jersey

Cory Booker

Some Democratic voters claim to have found a new Barack Obama in the New Jersey senator Cory Booker, and not just because he is young (for a presidential candidate) and African-American. Mr Booker, who announced his plans to run on February 1st, balances a connection to impoverished Newark, where he was a successful mayor, with an optimistic message of unity and love. He has adopted numerous left-of-centre positions (he backs Medicare for All, for example). Yet some on the left decry his ties to Wall Street and opposition of legislation that would have slashed prescription drug prices in 2017.

Kamala Harris

Senator from California

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris occupies the top spot among market bettors, and a close third in public polling. The senator from California, who launched her campaign in mid-January, has placed a very liberal set of policy reforms at the forefront of her campaign, including support for Medicare-for-all and the so-called “Green New Deal.” Ms Harris has a knack of sounding more progressive than she actually is, a political asset at this stage. And she could do well in South Carolina, an important early state with lots of African-American primary voters.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator from New York

Kirsten Gillibrand

New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand joined the race promising to fight for Americans like she fights for her kids. Her policy portfolio includes health care “as a right, not a privilege,” public and vocational school funding, and anti-corruption proposals to fight lobbyists and special interests in Washington. Were it not for her ties to Wall Street, the candidate Ms Gillibrand most resembles is Elizabeth Warren, though she lacks Ms Warren’s academic record on public policy.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator from Massachusetts

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren was the next Democrat to announce. The senator from Massachusetts is well known for her support for stricter financial regulation. Although her campaign rollout has been dogged by an old controversy surrounding her claimed Native American heritage, she has been winning the war of ideas in the Democratic primary. Her economic populism—a combination of support for government programmes like Medicaid and Social Security and a wealth tax—is seen by her fans as way for Democrats to win favour with white, middle-class Americans again.

There already seems to be a Democrat for everyone in 2020, and not all of the likely candidates have declared. But according to The Economist’s analysis of polling in party nominations between 1980 and 2016, this early in a cycle just 17% of polls released have correctly identified the eventual party nominee. In February 2007, for example, Hillary Clinton had a 20-point lead over a young Barack Obama, who would end up winning the nomination a year and a half later in one of the closest primaries in recent memory. On the Republican side, Donald Trump had not even announced his candidacy 72 weeks before his party’s convention in 2016.

There are other ways to gauge who is ahead. Betting markets provide an opportunity for prognosticators to put real money behind their arguments, and performed admirably in predicting the 2018 midterms. According to the latest numbers from PredictIt, a popular American market, Kamala Harris has opened up a meaningful lead against all of the other currently announced candidates. However, with Joe Biden, the former Vice President, and Beto O’Rourke, who did surprisingly well in his Texas Senate race last year, not far behind, her position may deteriorate if they actually declare. In the game of presidential primaries, it is simply too early to say who might hold the winning cards.

Picture credits: AP; EPA; Reuters

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