The U.S. democratic invisible primary ends June 26 and 27, closing the period during which candidates start raising money, creating their campaigns and seeking endorsements among the party’s various groups and factions. This stage usually begins after candidates have announced their intention to run, but some occasionally choose to start building up their alliances and resources before announcing their candidacy. Though this has previously occurred away from the public eye, these primaries are becoming increasingly visible as the presidential race gains more importance in the media. Now, they are stepping more and more into the spotlight.
This takes us to June 26 and 27, when the first debate between candidates will take place. Even with the overabundance of candidates and high political tension, the democratic campaign is thus far following a classic pattern: conflict between the centrist establishment and left-wing ‘revolutionaries.’
Thus far, the 2020 campaign seems to be defined by the fact that the ‘establishment’ has a clear candidate, whereas the ‘revolutionaries’ do not. The mirrored conflict between establishment/revolutionaries on one hand and the center/left on the other characterizes the main candidates’ campaign. Trump’s 2020 rival will arise from the resolution of that conflict.
The main candidates so far are:
Joe Biden. Establishment: 10 / Revolution: 0
Right now, Biden is the candidate to beat. He shows 40 percent of voter intention in polls, has name recognition and has the support of major donors. He is also by far the strongest candidate among the white working class, usually members of trade unions, who swung from supporting Democrats to backing Trump in 2016, giving the current president his victory.
Biden is no novelty; but at least he did not ‘capitalize’ on his time away from politics, which proved to be a stumbling block in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At the policy level, his problem is not any lack of innovation—it is that he literally has no policy. However, sooner or later Biden will have to submit a government plan of action and introduce his team of advisors. Sharing his policy plans will be the next challenge to his candidacy. The former vice president cannot just keep promising Obama’s third term.
Bernie Sanders Establishment: 3 / Revolution: 1
The Vermont senator has been the biggest victim of his own revolution. His proposals for universal healthcare and free college education have been absorbed by most of the other democratic candidates, leaving Bernie (as he is known by his followers) without the identifying features of his previous campaign. Bernie has lost his novelty, as someone who has been on the frontline of U.S. politics for the past three years. Many young people, who were his foundation of votes, have replaced him with Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg, or have withdrawn their support despite not having a new favorite candidate. He still remains the second most popular candidate, though he has under 20 percent of the intended vote.
Elizabeth Warren. Establishment: 3 / Revolution: 7
The Massachusetts senator is facing a political trap as complicated as Bernie’s. It is very likely her political program will end up prevailing and that the eventual winner of the primaries will have to adopt many of her ideas on tech company regulation, financial system reform to defend consumer rights and gender equality. It’s also very likely that she will not be the candidate who puts these plans into action. Warren’s personality makes her attractive to highly educated left and center-left voters, but she lacks appeal among the working class. Even with these challenges, she is still third in the competition, polling between 5 and 10 percent.
Kamala Harris. Establishment: 5 / Revolution: 8
Harris is similar to Warren in many ways, but there are two differences in her favor: she is half-Indian and half-African American, and she is a compelling public speaker. The former will help her win the primaries, while the latter is a key feature in politics where voters consider each candidate’s personal identity. The senator also has geography on her side; she is from California, which means access to the massive financial resources of activists, tech companies and Hollywood. The primaries’ calendar also favors her, with California and other major states voting soon. In theory, she could be in a position to beat her rivals.
The problem is that Harris’ campaign hasn’t fully taken off. She has not gained significant endorsements and is behind Warren in the polls. Even among African Americans, she’s far behind Biden in popularity. This may be due to the fact that she’s not yet very well-known on the national stage, or that she hasn’t yet had a chance to display her excellent debate skills.
Pete Buttigieg. Establishment: 5 / Revolution: 10
The mayor of South Bend, a small city with only 100,000 inhabitants, should never have become more than an anecdote. Even though Buttigieg has popularity levels similar to Warren and Harris, his political trajectory has thus far followed the well-known path in the U.S. primaries of skyrocketing, then crashing. Of course, that was supposed to be Trump’s story in 2016, but he ended up in the White House.
So, it’s possible—though unlikely—that Buttigieg will resist burning out. In his favor, he has great rhetoric, he’s gay and he has an air of purity—he’s free from the contamination of Washington. Other points of interest are his status as an Afghanistan war veteran and his youth—at age 37, he is just two years above the legal age to run.
Beto O’Rourke. Establishment: 5 / Revolution: 9
O’Rourke’s supporters see him as the new Obama, while his detractors see him as a triumph of image over substance—a claim also leveled against the former president. O’Rourke has three main assets: he is handsome, he made a viral video of a road trip from Texas to Washington with a republican congressman and he was close to stealing the senate seat from former republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Although this may not seem impressive, his narrow loss against Cruz was considered a victory by many, as it meant a Democrat almost won a senate seat in Texas, which has been a republican stronghold for 25 years. O’Rourke has recently seen his numbers go down in the polls, even dropping beneath the 5 percent floor at the beginning of this month.
Cory Booker. Establishment: 7 / Revolution: 3
This New Jersey senator is a combination of Harris, Biden and Buttigieg. He belongs to a racial minority, with his African American heritage, and he was the mayor of Newark, a city many Americans link to crime and poverty. Despite this, his policies are very moderate, and he has previously cooperated with Facebook—the company parts of the Democratic Party consider synonymous with Russian interference in the 2016 election. His campaign is not gaining traction. In 2016, Booker was considered Obama’s natural successor. Now, he is on the verge of becoming the great disappointment in the primaries. His popularity is falling, coming dangerously close to the 1% voting intention where Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand are trapped.