A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

Democrats’ 2020 field may be huge – but that won’t be the case for long

Why We Wrote This

Candidates who fail to make the cut for September’s debate will have little reason to stay in the race. Several are being encouraged to consider Senate bids.

Scott Morgan/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate, businessman Tom Steyer talks to voters at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, August 11, 2019.

Dear reader:

We’ve written a lot about the unwieldy nature of the 2020 Democratic presidential field, with its two dozen or so contenders. But a thinning appears to be imminent.

So far, just nine candidates have qualified for the next debate – which requires at least 130,000 donors and 2% support in four qualifying polls to make the cut.

A few appear to be on the cusp. One is former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who only entered the race last month. Mr. Steyer has already secured the requisite number of donors – which has prompted grumbling from rival campaigns that his personal wealth is allowing him to game the system. Spending millions on Facebook ads and other forms of digital outreach to convince people to donate as little as $1 is not, critics charge, a good use of campaign funds – or an accurate measure of voter support.

There’s also been growing drumbeat on the left for certain candidates who’ve failed to catch fire to drop out and run for the Senate instead. At least one – former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper – is reportedly considering such a move. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock have resisted the idea so far (though there’s still time – the filing deadline for the Texas Senate race is in December; in Montana it’s not until next March).

At the same time, the size of the field has seemed to matter less in some ways – because polls have shown the race settling into pretty clear tiers. At the top: former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Next: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Four others have qualified for the September debate – Mr. O’Rourke, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. It’s possible one of them or another lower-tier candidate could still break through. But more and more, it’s looking like a Biden-Warren race, with Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg waiting in the wings.

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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