AS A BLIZZARD bore down on Minneapolis on February 10th, Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, announced before a shivering crowd that she would run for president. Covered in snow, Ms Klobuchar promised to bring her “grit” to Washington to fight for every “worker, farmer, dreamer and builder”. Ms Klobuchar becomes the biggest name in the race who does not hail from a coastal state. Prognosticators have latched onto this as an argument for her strong electability. However, it is far too early to make bold predictions about who is likely to clinch the nomination. Polls fielded at this stage of the race are extremely unreliable at predicting the eventual winner, and even the crowd wisdom provided by betting markets is highly volatile.
Senator from Minnesota
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.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro was the first to enter the fray, promising that a new generation of leadership can bring about victory for the Democratic Party. Mr Castro has leaned on his Hispanic heritage to contrast himself with President Trump and promise that, with him, diverse states like Arizona, Georgia, and and Texas would flip from red to blue. But so far he has failed to catch voters’ attention.
Senator from Massachusetts
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.
Senator from New York
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.
Senator from California
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.
Senator from New Jersey
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.
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 find a ladder and who will stumble upon a chute.
Picture credits: AP; EPA; Reuters