With less than 11 months until the New Hampshire primary, the list of Democratic presidential candidates is only getting longer (15 and counting!). Contenders are already hiring senior staff and making multiple campaign visits to the first-in-the-nation primary state, which has often served as a make-or-break contest for top candidates seeking their party’s presidential nomination.
With that as a backdrop, here are the first rankings of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, ordered by their likelihood of winning the New Hampshire primary if it were held today (it’s slated for Feb. 11, 2020). This list is based on interviews with activists and operatives in the state, recent polling, and an evaluation of the campaign’s on-the-ground operation.
But two other factors loom large in early rankings — name recognition and competition for a niche of voters. Name recognition is one reason why former vice president Joe Biden is so high on the list, even though he has virtually no New Hampshire operation. The state’s activists and insiders may have credible favorites already, but the vast majority of voters don’t know who these candidates are yet — except, in many cases, for Biden.
In the competition for a niche of voters, there are a lot of progressive candidates slicing up the vote on the far left, which makes it a good time to be a moderate, strategically. Also, New Hampshire has an open primary, which means the state’s independent voters are allowed to vote for a Democratic candidate next year.
One more note: Four years ago this ranking was mocked for putting a reality television star who hadn’t even announced his campaign in fifth place on the list. On the ground Donald Trump had something going, and eventually he was in first place in the Globe’s rankings of GOP candidates.He won the primary with 35 percent of the vote, 20 points ahead of the second-place finisher, John Kasich, who was trailed by more than a dozen other candidates.
Indeed, a large field of candidates makes for an unpredictable primary season, and Democrats are on track to have more contenders next year than Republicans did in 2016.
All the more reason to stay tuned: New rankings will come out regularly in the months leading up to the primary.
1. Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont
As it stands in the New Hampshire primary, there’s Sanders and then everyone else. No one even comes close to the level of support, energy, and commitment that Sanders has enjoyed since he won the New Hampshire primary with 60 percent of the vote in 2016.
Now here’s the downside of expectations: mathematically, his numbers can go only go down in a field this large. But even with polls putting him at 25 percent to 30 percent support in the state’s primary, that’s enough to win in such a large field.
2. Joe Biden, former vice president
Biden could be 2020’s best example of the adage that a candidate’s best day is the one before they announce they are running. That’s because other than name recognition, Biden doesn’t have much going on in New Hampshire. For all of his decades of campaigning and visits to the state, only a handful of insiders would be inclined to support him, though one is the state House speaker.
If the primary were held today, he would do quite well — but the primary is not today. Indeed, if he runs, Biden will enter an entirely different political world than existed during his last attempts in 2008 and 1988. He struggled with fund-raising then, but he’s never run in the new era of low dollar contributors — something his competitors have mastered. And he’ll probably have a hard time defending many of his votes from his four decades in the Senate: He will be the only candidate, for example, who opposed school busing, voted for NAFTA and the 1996 crime bill — and helped Wall Street on a bankruptcy bill.
Biden may be high on this list, but if he were a stock, you should sell.
3. Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts
New Hampshire polls suggest Warren would be a few spots lower on the list, but they are not accounting for the fact that she is the candidate who has visited the state most frequently this year and is quietly building out a team there.
And for good reason, too: New Hampshire is a must win for Warren. It is likely no one will take the state’s primary more seriously than Warren or Sanders because historically, New England candidates have won the primary. And if they don’t, they’re toast (See: Dean, Howard).
4. Kamala Harris, senator from California
It’s unclear just how much Harris will play in New Hampshire, especially with her home state’s primary looming three weeks later on the calendar. Last year, an aide said her path to the nomination didn’t involve the state, and she has only been there once as a presidential candidate.
But that trip showed how interested folks in New Hampshire are to see her. More than 1,500 showed up during a snowstorm to see her in Portsmouth — a crowd that rivaled those that Barack Obama drew when he began visiting the state in 2007.
5. Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey
Like with Harris, there is a lot of interest in Booker among activists. Unlike Harris, he is hiring a lot of talented staff in New Hampshire, which is critical in the state known for putting a premium on retail politics.
6. Beto O’Rourke, former congressman from Texas
Months ago, O’Rourke was the prospect with all the buzz. Now that he’s a candidate, however, he’s got to recreate that buzz and scale up what has been a fly-by-seat-of-his-pants political operation to a national level. And it’s going to be a challenge with his later-than-most entry into the contest. Still, he is the biggest wild card in the race. His campaign could take off — but it seems just as likely to land with a thud.
7. Marianne Williamson, author and spiritual guru
Yes, a person most readers will have to Google is already well ahead of sitting senators, Cabinet officials, and former governors in the New Hampshire rankings. Don’t believe me? Just look at the overflow crowds of people who adore her and probably won’t even consider voting for anyone else. It’s clear by these counts that Williamson, Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser, enters the race with her own base of support. Also, it turned a lot of heads when former congressman Paul Hodes agreed to run her campaign in the state.
8. Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii
Admittedly her campaign operation is a mess and there are questions whether her campaign failed to launch in a way that even keeps her in the game. Despite all that, Gabbard has a dedicated following in the state.
Eighth feels a little high for the 37-year-old Iraq War veteran, but the raw math puts her here. Gabbard is the only person on this list who endorsed Sanders in 2016. If his 60 percent vote share decreases by half, just by virtue of the large field, where are all those voters going? A good chunk who leave Sanders could easily find a home with Gabbard.
9. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Buttigieg is drawing crowds of 250 in small towns, and 350 people came to hear him speak on a recent Friday night in Portsmouth. People are interested in him and his unique background as a 37-year-old veteran and Rhodes Scholar who is also gay. He could move up on the list, but his problem will be convincing voters to go with him versus other higher profile candidates. He doesn’t have his own niche.
10. Andrew Yang
Yes, here is another person on this list whom many people will have to look up. The California entrepreneur is running on universal basic income, a proposal for every American to receive a check as a way of offsetting how the economy will change via automation.
Unlike, say, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Yang has a lot of staff on the ground, and he is actively creating his own loyal voter base. How big is his support? In a month, he says, he went from 1,500 individual contributors to 65,000, which, if true, ensures he will qualify to be on the debate stage under the Democratic National Committee rules.