Presidential campaigns are defined both by those who choose to run, as well as those who opt against running.
For example, the race for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination might have taken a far different path had either Senator Walter Mondale located the “fire in the belly” he deemed necessary to enter the fray, or if Senator Ted Kennedy decided to seek the presidency that cycle.
Or if Senator Joe Biden ran in 1984…he would likely have likely cut deeply into what became Gary Hart’s base, while also attracting a certain number of Mondale supporters. Of course both Biden and Hart experienced their own problems in ’88.
Thinking about 1988, would Al Gore still have emerged as a top-vote getter (after Mike Dukakis and Jesse Jackson) had Bill Clinton been in the field as well? Would Dukakis have gotten anywhere if Mario Cuomo said, “I’m in?”
And flipping the script on the previous cycle’s scenario outlined above, would Bill Clinton have won the nomination in 1992, as damaged and flawed as he was, had Al Gore been available as an active alternative?
Would Paul Wellstone have fared better against Al Gore than Bill Bradley in 2000? What if Joe Biden or Dick Gephardt had been presidential candidates that cycle?
Or what if Hillary Clinton ran for the White House in 2004? Or if Gore (again) followed up on his 2000 campaign in an effort to have a re-match against W.? Would John Kerry have been able to obtain the Democratic nomination if either of those two sought it?
My point is all of this is that some names being floated as potential 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants, including at least one or two heavy-hitters, may decide to forgo a run this time around. There are many reasons for this. The time is not right for themselves and/or their family. They see no clear path to the nomination. They would rather wait for 2024 and an open seat (on the assumption that Trump somehow manages to serve two full terms). They are not ready to enter the meat grinder. The “Invisible Primary” isn’t going as well as expected for them (media attention, staffing, fundraising, etc…).
You want predictions? Fine. While Cory Booker is currently making moves as a soon-to-be-presidential candidate, it would not surprise me if he took a pass on 2020. He is young enough to run down the road and he is up for re-election in 2020. Granted, bearing in mind recent changes to NJ election laws, he can pull a Bentsen and run for both President (or Vice President) and the U.S. Senate, so that removed one potential issue. I still believe he is likely to seek the presidency in 2020, but I don’t yet see it as an automatic bet.
For different reasons, I think Joe Biden is not a mortal lock to run in 2020. With a Democratic party looking to the future, do they really want as the standard-bearer someone who came to DC two years before the Watergate Babies took office and who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate since 1984, the year Night Court began airing? He and his brain trust must be pondering that question, recognizing that Biden is currently basking in the glow provided by serving as President Barack Obama’s veep. What happens when the focus shifts to Biden’s full record? Does he want to risk ending his long public service career on a down note, perhaps tarnishing his Elder Statesperson standing, for one more shot at the Big Chair?
Finally, while I believe the progressive electorate is large enough to support a field that includes both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, I don’t believe both of them will seek the nomination in 2020. This cycle has all of the makings of Bernie’s Last Run (unless a 2024 re-election campaign is a possibility). Meanwhile, Senator Warren doesn’t yet seem like someone who actually wants to run for President. She clearly wants to accomplish substantive reforms, but she doesn’t strike me as someone who believes that they need to be a resident of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania to do so.
Booker. Biden. Warren. At least one and possibly two will not buy the ticket for the 2020 ride.
The next few weeks will be a critical time as many candidates and their families are discussing The Big Decision and finalizing their go/no-go plans. Those who announce “early” (before 2/28/19) will help shape the field and influence the choices of those who will make their intentions known in the spring.
So many possibilities, so many what-ifs. All that can be known with certainty is that, somewhere in Iowa, at this very moment, five people at a diner are sipping coffee and patiently listening to John Delaney explain his vision for America.
And so it goes.