More than a year since most candidates announced their campaigns for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the historically large field of candidates has essentially narrowed to six leading candidates.
After state primary voting began in dramatic fashion when voting results from the Iowa caucus were fumbled, Sen. Bernie Sanders appears to be the leading vote-getter after a tight race in New Hampshire a week later. However, in terms of the actual delegates that will determine the nominee, former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is slightly ahead — for now.
The Democratic race has continued to contract, with candidates like entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick dropping out soon after their rocky results in early voting.
The six leading candidates all appeared on stage at Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas, ahead of the Nevada caucus.
Mike Bloomberg, who announced his late presidential bid in November, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who many didn’t see as a top contender until a surprise February surge in New Hampshire, made their way into the mix.
Ahead of next summer’s Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin, all of them are vying for voters, fundraising dollars and media attention in preparation of a run against President Donald Trump.
Other prominent names past and present include as Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (who dropped out in November). Sanders and the five others have pulled ahead thanks to their polling averages and the millions of dollars they’ve raised, while the remaining candidates like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have yet to break through.
Here’s what you need to know about the top contenders.
- National polling average as of this writing: 26.8 percent, according to RealClear Politics
- Fundraising in the third quarter of 2019: $25.3 million
Sanders, a senator from Vermont since 2007, surprised many with his seemingly quixotic 2016 run for president — which then came closer than many predicted to besting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
A democratic socialist born and raised in New York City, Sanders, 78, has long championed progressive policies that he’s helped push into the mainstream, such as “Medicare-for-all,” a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public universities, community colleges and trade schools, criminal justice reform and a broad push to address climate change.
With Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also running for president, Sanders is no longer the only leading progressive in the race, as the two are tackling many of same big issues. (Warren previously called for free tuition at two- and four-year public colleges, though her plan was subject to income, while Sanders’ has no eligibility limitations.)
Polling shows that, like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders faces voter concerns about his age.
Sanders, who would become the first Jewish president should he be elected, has been married to wife Jane O’Meara since 1988 and considers her three children his own. He also has a son, Levi, who last year made an unsuccessful congressional run, as well as seven grandchildren.
- National polling average as of this writing: 17.6 percent
- Fundraising in the third quarter of 2019: $15.7 million
The vice president under Barack Obama, Biden emerged early as the presumed frontrunner in the race to the White House — and that’s where he’s stayed since launching his campaign in April, despite at-times insurgent challenges from others and relatively uninspiring fundraising. Unlike his fellow Democrats in the race, Biden consistently draws robust support from black voters, a constituency.
The 77-year-old has been a major figure in the Democratic Party for decades, serving as a senator from Delaware from the early ‘70s until 2009, when he left to be Obama’s second-in-command. During his time in Congress, Biden served on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Biden has said his priorities as president would be rebuilding the middle class, tackling climate change, reforming the criminal justice system and protecting the Affordable Care Act, a signature achievement in Obama’s White House.
He has not been without controversy, given his long political career: This year he’s issued apologies for both how he handled Anita Hill’s sexual misconduct testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas while on the Senate Judiciary Committee and for working with segregationists decades ago.
He also denied claims in April that he’d acted inappropriately toward former Nevada politician Lucy Flores, who said Biden touched her shoulder and kissed the back of her neck without consent in 2014. However, he later acknowledged he had made multiple women “uncomfortable” and said he would be “more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”
Biden’s personal life has seen its share of tragedy and triumph. A 1972 car accident killed wife Neilia and their daughter, Naomi, though sons Beau and Hunter survived. Biden married his second wife, Jill, in 1977, but lost Beau to brain cancer at age 46 in 2015. (Beau’s widow, Hallie, went on to date Hunter, though the couple later split and Hunter secretly married Melissa Cohen.)
- National polling average as of this writing: 12.3 percent
- Fundraising in the third quarter of 2019: $24.6 million
In 2013, Warren became the first woman to ever be elected to the Senate from Massachusetts, a victory after she served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel during the 2008 financial crisis known as the Great Recession. She also helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A former Harvard University law school professor who specializes in bankruptcy law, and who has been noted for the breadth and detail of her suggested policies, the 70-year-old Oklahoma native supports progressive issues such as student loan debt cancelation and, like Sanders, government-backed universal health care via “Medicare-for-all.”
She’s condemned policies described as privileging the wealthy and has proposed a wealth tax on the 75,000 richest people in the country in order to pay for some of her other proposals, including her student loan plan.
A favorite target of Trump’s, who insults her as “Pocahontas,” Warren continues to grapple with controversy because she identified herself as Native American in the ’80s and ’90s. Last year Warren attempted to prove she indeed had Cherokee Nation ties with a DNA test — and though it confirmed she likely did have indigenous blood, she was criticized by prominent members of Cherokee Nation.
“Using a DNA test to claim any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation is inappropriate and wrong,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.
“I am sorry for harm I have caused,” Warren said at a Native American forum earlier this month, according to The New York Times. “I have listened and I have learned a lot, and I am grateful for the many conversations that we’ve had together.”
She has been married to husband Bruce Mann for 38 years and has a son, daughter and three grandchildren.
- National polling average as of this writing: 10.3 percent
- Fundraising in the third quarter of 2019: Raised $19.1 million
A military veteran more commonly known as “Mayor Pete,” Buttigieg would be the first openly gay president if elected.
Thanks in part to his rhetorical style and striking personal story, the 37 year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, went from essentially unknown to serious contender in only a few months. His platform — sometimes criticized as too light on specifics — includes support for universal health care and a system he calls “Medicare for All Who Want It,” debt-free college for lower-income families, support for the “Green New Deal” to address climate change and universal background checks during gun purchases.
Buttigieg served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan, earning a Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work.
Married to husband Chasten last year, Buttigieg speaks seven foreign languages and would be the youngest U.S. president ever if elected.
- National polling average as of this writing: 15.9 percent
- Is self-funding his campaign, given his personal fortune. Money spent on TV, radio and online advertisements as of this writing: $338.7 million
Bloomberg, a former three-term mayor of N.Y.C., is taking a historically unusual approach to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, announcing his 2020 campaign in November — nearly a year after most other candidates announced their campaigns.
Bloomberg, a 78-year-old billionaire who made his fortune on his eponymous financial information company, served was mayor for three terms from 2002 until 2013. During his tenure, Bloomberg faced heavy criticism for championing the city police department’s “stop and frisk” policy, which discriminated against people from racial minority groups.
The billionaire candidate has also faced backlash in early 2020 after leaked audio showed him blaming the 2008 housing crisis on banks’ inability to practice a discriminatory practice called “redlining,” as well as his tendency to make offensive comments towards women in the work place — all of which the presidential candidate and his campaign have apologized for since Bloomberg announced his bid last November.
Advocates say Bloomberg’s tough stance on gun control and his proven track record as New York City’s mayor for over a decade are some of what draws them to the candidate, in addition to his massive campaign war chest that he’s made clear he’s ready to spend in a presidential race against Trump.
- National polling average as of this writing: 6.6 percent
- Spent on TV, radio, and online advertisements as of this writing: $4.8 million
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar might be the biggest political surprise coming out of the early state primaries — finishing third in the New Hampshire Primary with 19.82 percent, about 10 percent higher than Warren and about six percent behind Sanders, the leading candidate.
Klobuchar, 59, was named one of PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World in 2019 alongside Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the 2020 race in early December. “I don’t want to be the president for half of America,” she told PEOPLE last year. “I want to be the president for all of America.”
The Midwestern politician announced her campaign on a frozen river in early 2019 and her campaign seemed to be just as stagnant before she began to rise in polls ahead of the New Hampshire Primary with a strong performance in February’s debate, earning her a spike in national media attention amid her building up “Klobmentum,” as seen in her appearance on The View earlier this month.
Most notably resonate among her campaign messages with all the other Democratic candidates still in the race: defeating Donald Trump.
“We’ve got a guy in the White House that lacks decency and lacks empathy for everyday people,” Klobuchar told Joy Behar earlier this month. “He can’t put himself in their shoes.”