Gone are a bunch of presidential candidates you’ve never heard of and a couple you probably know. The next Democratic debate is Thursday, Sept. 12, starting at 7 p.m. and airing on ABC and Univision. The moderators will be George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, and Jorge Ramos. Jay Inslee is out. So are Kirsten Gillibrand, Mike Gravel, and John Hickenlooper.
And the next debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is one night only. Making Thursday night’s debate meant both racking up more than 130,000 individual donors and obtaining 2 percent support in at least four qualifying polls. That means you won’t see Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, or Marianne Williamson on the debate stage.
Under the shadow of Donald Trump’s presidency, plenty of Democrats feel that absolutely nothing is more important than winning the election. If you thought Trump’s done damage now, they say, what could he do with four more years of tweets, tariffs, and Supreme Court picks? Nothing, these Democrats argue, is more important than picking someone who’s “electable.”
And yet, at the same time, Trump’s election has made the very notion of “electability” seem like a farce. Trump got elected. We’re clearly living in a magical realist age of the absurd and fantastical. Anything is possible.
Maybe electability isn’t about being boring, moderate, and middle of the road. Maybe the voters aren’t looking for another dull technocrat. After all, nobody wants to end up as the Democratic version of Jeb. And so suddenly a lot of the Democratic candidates aren’t afraid of being called liberal — or even “socialist.”
Back in 2008, Barack Obama wasn’t even willing to endorse gay marriage. But today? You have Democrats calling for the government to provide reparations for slavery. Candidates aren’t just talking about universal healthcare — they’re talking about canceling college debt and expanding the Supreme Court.
There are candidates for Obama liberals who listen to Pod Save America, candidates for the crass dirtbag leftists who listen to the Chapo Trap House, and even, chillingly, candidates for the Democrats who don’t listen to podcasts at all.
Here’s the good news for you Democrats: This year, there are enough contenders that, if one of your favorites isn’t chosen and Trump is re-elected, you can always adopt the mantra, “Bernie, Pete, Amy, Joe, Cory, or Elizabeth would have won!”– Daniel Walters
Joe Biden, 76
Résumé: Before serving as vice president under former two-term President Barack Obama, Biden was a long-time U.S. senator representing Delaware from 1973 to 2009. (He also ran for president twice.) Notable moments of his senatorial tenure include voting for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, pushing for tough-on-crime measures like mandatory sentencing laws, and getting the 1994 Violence Against Women Act passed.
Polling: Since entering the Democratic primary, Biden has led the pack of candidates in the polls, currently holding at around 30 percent.
Talking Points: His campaign has been bullish on one message: Joe Biden is best equipped to prevent Trump from getting re-elected. While his chief competitors in the race, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, jockey for the fiery progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Biden proudly positions himself as a legacy centrist who can unite the country.
Best Known For: Being personable, empathetic, folksy, and utterly embodying the “Uncle Joe” nickname, but this trait has gotten him into trouble, such as recently taking a beating in the press for being too casual and touchy with women.
Trivia: Biden was just 29 when he won his first campaign for U.S. Senate but turned 30 by the time he was sworn in — the legal minimum age for the office.
What He’d Order at a Bagel Shop: He’d probably ask if they serve pasta before zipping off to the closest Italian joint. (His favorite food is reportedly angel hair pasta.)
Side by Side: Biden and Trump are both aging white men who rose to prominence in the political and social context of the ’80s and ’90s, making them cultural dinosaurs in the eyes of millennials and the media. Trump, however, openly embraces authoritarianism and polarization, while Biden maintains a firm belief in an idealized West Wing-esque vision of American democracy in which centrist bipartisanship is still a thing. –– Josh Kelety
Cory Booker, 50
Résumé: With roots in New Jersey, Booker worked as a tenant organizer and founded a nonprofit legal clinic for low-income families in Newark before getting elected to the city council in 1998. After unsuccessfully running for mayor in 2002, he ran again in 2006 and won, serving until 2013, then he jumped into a special election for U.S. Senate. He was re-elected in 2014 and has held the seat since.
Polling: Unfortunately for Booker, he’s struggled to make a dent in national polls, consistently notching below five points over the last few months in the crowded field.
Talking Points: Booker bills himself both as a progressive and a pragmatist who will work within the system and won’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. He touts his focus on criminal justice reform issues, such as his successful bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. In an indication of how he’d handle lofty progressive policy goals, he’s maintained his support for Medicare for All while also indicating that he’s open to keeping private insurance.
Best Known For: Booker has espoused a “radical love” for all Americans as a foundational philosophy of his campaign and a broader positive strategy to unify a polarized nation around remedying injustice, but this hasn’t stopped him from taking aggressive shots at Trump or rival Joe Biden.
Trivia: Booker started out as a vegetarian in the ’90s before going full-on vegan in 2014.
Favorite Hashtag: He’d mistakenly use #instagood as a stand-in for positive, feel-good righteous, justice vibes when reposting any content referring to when he carried a woman from a burning house in Newark.
Side by Side: While Trump eventually signed Booker’s First Step Act into law and has some connections to New Jersey through past real estate plays, that’s where his similarities with Booker end. Trump is increasingly doubling down on white identity politics to replicate his successful 2016 campaign, while Booker has said that Trump is “responsible” for the mass shooting in El Paso because he is “stoking fears and hatred and bigotry.” –– J.K.
Pete Buttigieg, 37
Résumé: Buttigieg has served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, since 2012. He was elected at 29, making him the youngest mayor in the country to ever serve a city of 100,000 or more. A graduate of Harvard and an Oxford Rhodes Scholar, he served as a U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer from 2009 to 2017, deploying to Afghanistan in 2014.
Polling: Buttigieg is trending fifth among Democratic contenders in eight polls conducted in August, averaging 4.6 points.
Talking Points: As a millennial, Buttigieg says he recognizes there is no stopping the clock and turning it back but only moving forward. He plans to address job-loss impacts from automation, make system-wide changes to the transportation and energy sectors to combat climate change, and crack down on gun violence by banning military-style weapons and investing in the prevention of extremism and domestic terrorism.
Best Known For: He’s quickly becoming known for his calm and eloquent answers, both during debates and to hecklers on the campaign trail, with some comparing him to Barack Obama.
Trivia: If elected, Buttigieg would be the youngest president ever and the first to be openly gay.
Likely First Date Spot: Pete would take you to the State Fair of Texas, where you’d chow down on every fried thing imaginable, blissfully forgetting those first-date jitters when your fingers brush while reaching for the same pork chop on a stick.
Side by Side: Though Buttigieg has no state or federal political experience, he still has more years of government experience than Trump, whose only foray into politics has been in the highest office. While Trump took the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, Buttigieg plans to launch a Clean Energy Victory Plan on his first day in office. – Samantha Wohlfeil
Julian Castro, 44
Résumé: Born in Texas, Castro was first elected to the San Antonio City Council in 2001 at age 26. After 2005, he eventually was elected mayor in 2009 and served until 2013, during which he instituted a universal pre-K program. In 2014, he joined Obama’s cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Polling: Despite some splashy moments in the recent televised Democratic debates, Castro is near the bottom of the pack in national polls with less than 1 percent.
Talking Points: Castro made a name for himself with a specific and bold immigration reform proposal that challenges Trump’s anti-immigration policies. That plan includes policy points like decriminalizing illegal border crossings and limiting the federal government’s ability to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.
Best Known For: Skewering fellow Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke for not doing his “homework” on federal immigration law during a June debate.
Trivia: He has a twin brother, Joaquin — he is also a politician — and while he was on a decorated barge at a 2012 parade in San Antonio, onlookers reportedly mistook him for Julian.
What He’d Be Like on a Date: Charming, eloquent, intelligent, but slightly unnerving because it would be hard to tell if it was actually him or Joaquin serving as a stand-in — at least initially.
Side by Side: Castro and Trump are basically polar opposites. Castro is Latino, has prior experience in government, and wants to reverse Trump’s current crackdown on undocumented immigrants through a plan that would, among many things, increase the number of refugees that the United States admits annually. Trump, meanwhile, has unabashedly described Latino immigration as an “invasion.” – J.K.
Kamala Harris, 54
Résumé: One of California’s two U.S. senators since 2017, Harris previously served as California attorney general (2011 to 2017) and before that she was the district attorney for San Francisco (2004 to 2011).
Polling: Among eight polls conducted in August, Harris trended fourth among Democrats, gathering an average of seven points and trailing Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Biden.
Talking Points: Harris plans to push for Medicare for All and says that her first move as president would be to reverse tax breaks on wealthy companies and offer tax credits of up to $6,000 for working families each year. She’d also push for criminal justice system reform, including abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, changing the way drug offenses are handled, and ending cash bail — things she failed to support as California’s AG.
Best Known For: The media spotlight focused intensely on Harris in mid-2017 when she put her prosecutor skills to use, grilling Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. She was shut down repeatedly by Sens. John McCain and Richard Burr, who asked her to be more respectful, sparking a debate about whether a male congressman asking the same questions would’ve garnered the same reaction.
Trivia: Her name comes from the Sanskrit for “lotus.”
If She Had a Vanity License Plate: TRUTHSKR
Side by Side: Trump has railed against immigrants, making moves to stem both legal and illegal immigration, and soon after taking office implemented travel restrictions that Harris coined as the “Muslim Ban.” Harris is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica and says she would reinstate protections for “Dreamers,” put protection in place for their parents, and create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants already here. – S.W.
Amy Klobuchar, 59
Résumé: Klobuchar rose from being a corporate lawyer to a county attorney in Minnesota to a U.S. senator from Minnesota.
Polling: Pretty dire. Klobuchar was at only 0.8 percent in the last Real Clear Politics polls.
Talking Points: In the Senate, she’s pushed for funds for more rape kit testing and several bills aimed at combating sex trafficking. For Minnesota, she’s a liberal, but compared to the rest of the Democratic presidential field, she’s downright moderate. She’s one of the few Democratic presidential contenders to avoid endorsing Medicare for All, a stance that’s likely hurting her in the primary but could help her in the general election. She’s a strong-willed Democratic woman who won’t ignore the Midwestern states. In 2018, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, she won 1,250 of the 3,000 Minnesota precincts won by Trump in 2016.
Best Known For: Binders thrown by women. Klobuchar’s former staffers share horror stories about her management style, including sabotaging staffers looking for other jobs. And that’s for staffers she likes. Others detailed late-night insulting emails and one incident when she threw a binder angrily and hit some poor sap.
Trivia: While running for Senate in 2006, Klobuchar claimed she raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends, not traditionally a powerful donor base.
How She Probably Orders Bagels: “Just bring me something halfway decent for once in your life, but I swear if just one sesame is out of place, you’ll never sell bagels in this town again.”
Side By Side: One Washington Post columnist called her “Trump’s Worst Nightmare.” All of Klobuchar’s dirt (she was mean to staff members) suddenly pales in comparison to the long string of Donald Trump scandals, which includes, just to pick one example, the time he withdrew the health insurance supporting his nephew’s infant child, suffering from cerebral palsy, because of a family dispute. On the other hand, there was that report that Klobuchar ate salad with a comb. A comb! – D.W.
Beto O’Rourke, 46
Résumé: Born in El Paso, O’Rourke cofounded an internet services and software company before he became an El Paso City Council member from 2005 until 2011. From there, he won a Congressional seat representing Texas’ 16th District until 2019, but you probably know him from his unsuccessful bid to unseat Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate last year.
Polling: 2.1 percent
Talking Points: O’Rourke has had trouble separating himself from other candidates, as he’s not quite as far left as Sanders or Warren but not quite as popular as someone like Biden, but since the shooting in El Paso last month, an exasperated O’Rourke has become fiery — lambasting Trump for racist rhetoric and clearly stating that his intention was for Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s to sell them to the government.
Best Known For: It’s been said that O’Rourke has youth pastor energy. He wants to sell you on his liberal ideas, but he wants to be cool and relatable about it.
Trivia: O’Rourke was once in a punk band called Foss. He was also arrested twice in the ’90s — once on suspicion of burglary and once for a DUI.
What He’d Be Like on a Date: For a while, he’d listen to you, make you feel heard, but then you’d notice that he keeps glancing down at the table, nervously. Don’t do it, you say. But O’Rourke can’t resist. Before you know it, he’s clearing off the food, rolling up his sleeves, and shouting about how he will unite the people. You realize that you’ll never be enough. Because his first love, always, will be the table beneath his feet.
Side by Side: His stance on immigration is in sharp contrast with Trump. While Trump wants to build the wall, O’Rourke wants to tear the wall down that separates his hometown of El Paso from the Mexico border. He’s against separating children from their families, and he would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. – Wilson Criscione
Bernie Sanders, 77
Résumé: Sanders was elected to Congress as an independent in 1991, serving in the House as a representative of Vermont. He became a senator in 2007 and has remained one ever since.
Polling: 16.3 percent
Talking Points: Sanders wants a “political revolution.” And if within five minutes of hearing Sanders talk, you don’t know that Sanders wants to break up Wall Street, provide Medicare for All, and fight for the interests of workers instead of the big bad 1 percent, then something is seriously wrong. He also wants to cancel all student debt, and he supports the Green New Deal, calling climate change a “global emergency.”
Best Known For: He ran an unexpectedly formidable campaign for president in 2016 in which the term “Bernie Bros” became a thing, a nice bird landed on his podium during a Portland rally, and he seriously threatened Hillary Clinton in the primary (except it wasn’t really that close).
Trivia: Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 by a margin of 10 votes.
Fake Trivia: When he’s not running for president, Sanders is busy creating and starring in the HBO comedy television series Curb Your Enthusiasm under the pseudonym Larry David.
Side by Side: The staunch Bernie supporters remain convinced he would have beaten Trump in 2016, had he won the primary. And the current head-to-head polls have him ahead of Trump by an average of 6 points. But this isn’t 2016, polls aren’t always reliable, and who knows if the country is ready to vote a democratic socialist into office. – W.C.
Elizabeth Warren, 70
Résumé: As a former teacher and law professor, Warren won a seat on the U.S. Senate in 2012, becoming the first female senator from Massachusetts.
Polling: 17.1 percent
Talking points: She shares many views with Bernie Sanders — ending corruption in Washington, D.C., and raising wages, for instance — but with one key distinction: She says she remains a capitalist. She pushes detailed policy platforms, including signing on to the Green New Deal resolution in February and embracing the climate change plan of Gov. Jay Inslee. She has her own thorough plan to cancel student loan debt by taxing the rich.
Best Known For: Mocked as “Pocahontas” by Trump, Warren thought it would be a good idea to prove her Native American heritage by taking a DNA test last year. The test showed she had Native American heritage six to 10 generations ago, but the move has been widely panned as insensitive to Native tribes and people of color.
Trivia: Warren was a registered Republican until the mid-1990s.
What She’d Be Like on a Date: Already knowing what she’d order before she arrives at the restaurant, Warren would use that extra time not spent looking at the menu to explain why cheeseburgers are exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants you to talk about.
Side by Side: The Trump world is reportedly anxious about Warren now that she’s bounced back from the DNA test debacle, but many Democrats still see other candidates having an easier time taking down Trump than Warren. –– W.C.
Andrew Yang, 44
Résumé: Yang graduated from Brown and Columbia and served as an attorney before working in philanthropy and healthcare startups, then running a grad school test prep company. In 2009, he started Venture for America to train and help the next generation of entrepreneurs so they had a better chance at revitalizing American cities and creating jobs.
Polling: Yang trended sixth among top Democrats in eight polls conducted in August, averaging 2.6 points.
Talking Points: He is also pushing for Medicare for All and believes in capitalism that puts human beings before money. Many of his solutions, such as those to address climate change, are centered in an economic approach that makes it more feasible for people to afford.
Best Known For: His main policy is centered on creating a universal basic income called the Freedom Dividend, under which every American over 18 would receive $1,000 a month. The policy is meant to counterbalance the loss of jobs as automation continues to grow.
Trivia: His campaign slogan, featured on hats as “MATH,” stands for “Make America Think Harder.”
Most Likely to Become a Meme: The internet “Yang Gang” has slapped his likeness and ideas on all sorts of memes, from “Do you even lift people out of poverty, bro?” to a take on the Ancient Aliens Guy: “I’m not saying the robots took all of our jobs, but the robots took all of our jobs.”
Side by Side: Yang and Trump are both businessmen, but while Trump’s ventures famously feature his name and aim for personal family gain, Yang’s work has tended to support the work of others and spreading the wealth. Yang appeals to many libertarians and conservatives who may have become disaffected with Trump. – S.W.
A version of this article first appeared in the Inlander, a weekly based in Spokane, Washington.